Daguerreotype anyone?

Discussion in 'Alternative Processes' started by sanking, May 9, 2006.

  1. sanking

    sanking Member

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    I just returned home to South Carolina from the APUG conference in Toronto. The conference was wonderful and I really enjoyed meeting everyone and participating in the conference.

    And yet, one of the greatest thrills for me came after the conference. One of the participants in my carbon workshop was Mike Robison. I have known Mike by name for a very long time since he and I have articles (on albumen and carbon respectively) in John Barnier's Coming Into Focus, but had never met him in person. Mike took up the daguerreotype process (traditional) around 1998 and now does brilliant work.

    After the carbon workshop Mike invited me to his studio for a demonstration of the daguerreotype process. What a thrill it was to see a master of this process do his work. The daguerreotype is without question one of the (or the) most complicated and demanding of all photograph processes and it was exciting beyond description to see this modern master of the process at work in his studio in the old Wrigley Building in Toronto.

    And to top it all off, I got to sit for a Daguerreotype portrait, which Mike graciously gave me in exchange for one of the carbon prints I had in the conference exhibition.

    Mike does both private and group workshops on the daguerreotype, and for anyone interested in learning this magnificent process, which ushered in the era of photography, I highly recommend him.


    Sandy
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 10, 2006
  2. smieglitz

    smieglitz Subscriber

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    So Sandy, do you plan to take up Daguerreotypy as well? I'll be exploring it this summer in the workshop Jason Motamedi is instructing at Peters's Valley Craft Center during mid-July.

    I understand Mike Robinson is also an albumen guru and makes specialized equipment for the daguerreotype process. Do you know if he is also doing casemaking for plates? I'm interested in the latter since taking up wetplate and woodworking last year.

    Any chance of posting the dag portrait? I'd like to see it.

    Joe
     
  3. sanking

    sanking Member

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    Hi Joe,

    Yes, Mike is also an albumen guru, but devoting most of his time these days to the daguerreotype. You would understand why if you saw his magnificients daguerreotypes. And yes, he is involved in casemaking for the plates, at least for one size that I observed.

    Will I be taking up daguerreotype? Who knows? But I found the process absolutely fascinating, and it really appeals to compulsive obsessive folks like me. And you perhaps?

    Just for the record, Mike practices the traditional type of daguerreotype.

    And yes, I will post the image, in the Technical gallery I guess.


    Sandy
     
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  4. photomc

    photomc Member

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    Was lucky enough to see a demonstration by Robert Shlaer at the Amon Carter a few years ago. It was quite impressive, and during the time Mr. Shlaer was retracing the Lewis & Clark trail, the show was later at the Carter. There is just something about the time spent preparing the plate, etc that I found most interesting. Matter of fact he went through the entire process, took us all outside the museum, photographed the group, then took us inside for the final processing....the daguerrotype is now part of the Carter's collection.

    To spend time one on one Sandy, had to very special. Thanks for sharing.
     
  5. sanking

    sanking Member

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    OK, I posted the daguerreotype portrait in the technical gallery.


    Sandy
     
  6. matt miller

    matt miller Subscriber

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    The photograph you posted is amazing. What is it printed on? Glass? Metal?
     
  7. JG Motamedi

    JG Motamedi Member

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  8. sanking

    sanking Member

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    Matt,

    Daguerreotypes are made on a silver plated copper plate. The silver plating is made light sensitive by fuming with iodide and then bromine. After final fuming the plate is placed in a light sensitive holder and exposed in the camera. After exposure, the plate is developed in a fuming hood by heating mercury.


    Sandy
     
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  9. Sean

    Sean Admin Staff Member Admin

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    What a great experience and souvenir, wow.
     
  10. George Papantoniou

    George Papantoniou Member

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    Someone has to be really nuts to mess with mercury vapor (methyl-mercury) which is highly neurotoxic, poisonous and if it gets in your system, it'll never get out... Do a google search on "mercury intoxication" and you'll see...
     
  11. CenturyDarkroom

    CenturyDarkroom Member

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    Dear George, I don't "mess" with mercury. The vapour is strictly controlled.
    Water is way more leathal if you find yourself over your head and unable to swim.

    P.S. Sandy, thanks so much for the mention. It was a great day!

    Mike Robinson
     
  12. George Papantoniou

    George Papantoniou Member

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    Didn't mean to hurt your feelings, Mike... I just think that nice boys shouldn't play with matches... I feel more comfortable now that I know you take good care not to get exposed...

    By the way, I prefer drowning to mercury poisoning...
     
  13. DBP

    DBP Member

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    And yet the Mad Daguerreotyper never joined the Mad Hatter in Wonderland.
     
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  15. Kerik

    Kerik Member

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    Speaking from experience?

    Mike - Amazing work! Glad to see you here.
     
  16. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    That is one beautiful image. (despite Sandy being the subject :tongue: ).

    In all seriousness, there is simply no photographic process that produces something as wonderous as daguerreotype. I have been fortunate to see a lot of examples and am always blown away by their beauty.

    As far as using mercury, it is no more dangerous then a lot of household items if used improperly. I have a friend who is an intern in Baltimore and he says you would be amazed how many times a year people are brought in after inhaling fumes from mixing either by accident or on prupose chlorine bleach and ammonia cleaner which produces deadly chlorine gas. It is always important to read labels, follow instructions and just don't be stupid.

    I don't think I have ever seen a website involving daguerreotype that does not repeatedly warn of the hazards of using bromine and mercury without the proper training and equipment.

    Anyway good for you Sandy, and I would bet the carbon print you traded was exquisite in its own right.
     
  17. Jersey Vic

    Jersey Vic Member

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    Regarding Casemaking workshops:Ask John Coffer about it; he's mentioned that he would like to teach a class if there's enough interest. His cases are amazing.
     
  18. Donald Qualls

    Donald Qualls Member

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    Just for clarity sake -- methyl mercury is completely different from mercury (metal) vapor. Methyl mercury is an organic mercury compound that absorbs through the skin and is lethal in amazingly tiny quantities, causing severe brain and nerve damage even in much tinier traces. Mercury vapor is just evaporated mercury metal -- hazardous, but not much if any more so than many household chemicals (as suggested above), and some of the cleaners some of us might use routinely in reconditioning antique photographic equipment. Given the vapor pressure of mercury after it cools to room temperature, you're in much more danger from inhaling gasoline fumes on the freeway than from inhaling mercury from a Daguerreotype darkroom next door; the only person taking any significant risk is the actual worker, and with modern technology for controlling the vapor, this risk is probably no more than woodworkers encounter from the combinations of chemicals they use routinely (and lots of woodworkers live long, healthy lives -- as, come to that, did many Daguerreotypists even when no particular care was taken with the mercury).
     
  19. sanking

    sanking Member

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    Jim,

    Mike did the best he could with my ugly mug. All I can say is that my wife loved the daguerreotype.

    As for the trade, it was a very nice carbon print. I was proud to exhibit it, and happy that it is now in the hands of someone who appreciates the effort and time that goes into mastering these old processes.

    Sandy
     
  20. JG Motamedi

    JG Motamedi Member

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    Thanks to Donald for the sane and very well informed response to the mercury scare. Terrors like Minamata, which was caused by methyl mercury should not be associated with elemental mercury. I have long been convinced that the other chemicals involved in Daguerreotypy, especially Bromine, are much more dangerous than Mercury. A laboratory grade fumehood, gloves, careful monitoring, as well as other precautions are of course obligatory, but the danger to others is relatively small. That said, there was a case of serious mercury poisoning in recent years of a Daguerreotypist in Australia. He was improperly using the wrong kind of fume hood, and exhausted the mercury fumes directly back into his darkroom.
     
  21. George Papantoniou

    George Papantoniou Member

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    I'm sorry if I was mistaken about the Methyl Mercury / plain Mercury issue, my claim was based on some things I read about the dangers of having your dental fillings (that contain Mercury) removed, a procedure which is causing some quantity of the amalgam to evaporate and (as stated by some alarmists on the web) create methyl mercury vapors... If this is untrue, then I'll go remove my Amalgam fillings right away... :smile:
     
  22. Donald Qualls

    Donald Qualls Member

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    Unless you really like dentists, or have reason to believe the tiny quanities of mercury in your fillings is doing you serious harm, I wouldn't recommend getting your fillings removed. The process does *NOT* create methyl mercury, however -- all that's done is the old filling is drilled out and replaced by either a gold filling (expensive) or one made from dental epoxy (cheapish, relatively speaking, though I don't like epoxy fillings much and they don't hold up well on chewing surfaces). Either way, you're paying a dentist to perform a completely unnecessary procedure; the amount of mercury you absorb from a mouthful of amalgam fillings (after the initial curing period of several hours, that time when the dentist tells you not to eat anything and to rinse your mouth several times) is probably less than you'd get by being around locations where fluorescent tubes are carelessly disposed of.

    The fillings are effectively harmless where they are, and the process of having them removed isn't much worse (short term -- long term, it's a wash). I just don't see any reason to spend money on it, and your insurance company is likely to agree with me (which means you'll foot the bill out of pocket).

    Mercury *is* a poison, don't ever mistake that -- it's just not one that will chase you around the room, tackle you, and force itself into your system, unless already in an organic molecule (of which methyl mercury is the most virulent).
     
  23. Donald Qualls

    Donald Qualls Member

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    I think a good case could be made that use of potassium cyanide as a fixer for wet plate/ambrotype/ferrotype is much more hazardous than use of mercury vapor to develop Daguerreotypes. However, if you're really, really concerned, there's always the Becquerel method, in which the exposed Dag plate is placed in a cabinet and exposed to dim red light for several days, then fixed when judged to be sufficiently developed. The plate is much slower when developed this way, and you don't see results for the best part of a week (compared to a half hour or so for mecury process), but there's no mercury in sight.

    Fuming the plates seems no great big deal to me -- bromine has such a strong smell that you couldn't breathe enough of it to do harm without noticing it, and it's also strongly colored, so a concentration high enough to do great harm with a single breath is actually quite visible. The same is true of iodine, plus the vapor pressure is so low that you have to heat the crystals to get enough vapor to treat the plate. The greatest potential for an accident, IMO, is in preparing the bromine fuming mixture, and working under a properly vented hood makes this little if any more hazardous than refilling the cells in a car battery without removing the battery from the car.
     
  24. JG Motamedi

    JG Motamedi Member

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    Donald,

    Great comments. Actually in current usage, Becquerel development can be done in about 2 hours using amberlith or rubylith with either a 500watt light or direct sunlight. Since Becquerel plates don't benefit from bromine fuming it is a simpler process, but about 2.5 stops slower. Also, Iodine doesn't have to be heated. The fumes created at room temperature are enough.
     
  25. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    now this is one of the many reasons why i love this site :smile:
    (one big "knowledge-base")
    - john
     
  26. eyaniv

    eyaniv Member

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    Interesting thread as a friend and I are about to try making a Becquerel daguerreotype this summer - we are in the very early phase of trying to figure this out.

    You say that the speed is about 2.5 stops slower than a mercury fumed daguerreotype. What ISO would be a good place to start our exposure calculations?

    Thanks.

    Ehud

    PS: If anyone knows a place in Vancouver BC where I can buy some rubylith, please let me know.