Just returned from a John Coffer wetplate collodion workshop
I returned yesterday from a field workshop in wetplate collodion with John Coffer on his farm in upstate New York, and while it is still fresh in my mind I thought I'd post a plug for him.
It was a remarkable experience in many ways. Three days, two of which were plagued by rain which made for very nice light in the field ("every cloud has a silver lining"), and "in the field" is an apt description. It was held outdoors under several large tents on the working farm, chickens and farm cats walking around beneath tripods. Brewster the rooster waking me from my sleep in the Tipi around 5 am. So very colorful...
It was inexpensive compared to other workshops and thus quite a bargain since John Coffer is the recognized contemporary master and authority on wetplate. There were three students at this workshop and John and his great assistant Tom DeLooza gave us all plenty of individualized instruction. We were also able to use several of John's cameras and lenses including stereo rigs and some US Civil War era period lenses as well as our own. Two of us had previous experience with wetplate and were able to resolve some earlier technical issues under John's guidance. All of us made some very nice images regardless of our background and previous experience. Whether one had a commercial, fine-art, or reenactor orientation, all of us received constant attention and guidance and we all profited greatly from the instruction we received. Plus, it was great meeting Francesco and Steve, the other students in attendance.
John's instruction was thorough though very laid back and he covered everything from mixing all sorts of different chemistry to equipment and processing variations, with a good deal of historical information and image examples thrown in the mix. He was very straightforward and his presentation was simple but encompassed everything needed to do wetplate work with great success.
We made traditional tintypes, as well as ambrotypes on clear, ruby and black glass, positives on aluminum, and negatives on glass. The final day had us printing our negatives on albumen paper and varnishing our plates. It was nonstop all three days from about 9am until 6pm.
Then, we relaxed around the campfire roasting hot dogs or eating pizza. Tom showed us his handmade 11x14 camera and some tintypes made with it. It was a trip watching John's wetplate DVDs on his laptop computer late in the evening on a picnic table under a tent canopy adjacent to his hand-built log cabin, computer batteries recharged from his solar power generator. There is no electricity or running water on the farm in the middle of a Mennonite community in the picturesque Finger Lakes region of New York. Every once in awhile a horse-drawn buggy would amble down the road. Quite a mix of 19th-century and modern technologies.
We saw tintype movies made with repeating cameras, John's 20x24 camera on wagon wheels, and his very nice 11x14 wetplate camera made by Tony Miller. Where else can one view original 20x24 tintypes and talk with their creator? I should also add that John displayed some of his own small tintypes housed in his exquisite handmade cases.
I'm so glad I did this and became part of the legacy taught by John Coffer. It was simply a great time, a fascinating experience, and I heartily recommend the workshop to anyone considering taking up wetplate collodion photography. He made it look simple. He taught us how simple it can be, and he dispelled some of the unwarranted complications and bad habits I brought with me.
A big thumbs up! Here's the link to John Coffer's Wetplate Collodion Workshops .
Thanks for the report! I've only heard great things about these workshops.
Originally Posted by smieglitz
It sounds like you had a rewarding experience. I think I will purchase his DVDs. $25 sounds quite reasonable. Perhaps I can take the workshop next year.
Did he demostrate how to make albumen paper?
John did demonstrate how he albumenized the paper and he talked of several other variations. We did not sensitize the paper though he had some made up in advance on which we printed. I think the humidity the last day worked against us a bit in that regard. But, he also demonstrated the effects of ammonia fuming compared to a sheet that did not receive that treatment. He albumenizes and sensitizes by submersion of the paper "packets" as he calls them- oversized sheets folded in half and glued along the other three edges with rubber cement to prevent solution getting on the reverse. Just before printing the glued edges are cut off.
Originally Posted by donbga
Between his "Doer's Guide" and the 3 DVDs, one could probably get successful with the process in short order. There are subtle things that only participating in a workshop will yield though. His manual is by far the best contemporary guidebook on wetplate collodion out there. Others I have seen are more abbreviated and generally only hint at a starting point-just enough information to whet your appetite to do a workshop. John's is much more thorough.
I'd definitely recommend buying John's guide and DVDs (cost refundable towards a future workshop tuition BTW) and picking up a copy of Towler's classic The Silver Sunbeam. Those will get you started.
Yes getting the guide and the DVDs is the best deal. I didn't notice that the first time I checked his web site.
Originally Posted by smieglitz
For those that are interested, The Silver Sunbeam can be found online here:
I'm hoping to get started with wet plate by late summer or fall depending upon my free time.
Interesting method to albumize the paper.
Thanks for the detailed report,
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Would love to see some of your results. Especially the tin types. Thank you for posting your experiences at John's workshop, I'll never be able to attend, but I am sure intrested.
Daniel Levin, who taught the albumen workshop that I took, mentioned Coffer's method of gluing the paper back to back and said he found it more messy and troublesome than floating the paper the traditional way.
Glad to hear you had a good experience. I am definitely looking into doing one of his workshops. I look forward to hearing your stories at the gathering.
Those images are absolutely amazing Joe. Thanks for posting them.
Technological society has succeeded in multiplying the opportunities for pleasure, but it has great difficulty in generating joy. Pope Paul VI
So, I think the "greats" were true to their visions, once their visions no longer sucked. Ralph Barker 12/2004