Making images with Dale Bernstein

Ginny Taylor Rosner came by the M10 studio this morning to talk about her show with us next month. (Don’t miss it!) While she was there, wet plate photographer Dale Bernstein joined us for a tour of the Complex, and afterwords we joined him on Mass Ave to watch him make some tintypes of the old Coca-Cola Bottling plant. I had my camera, so I did a little documenting of the very interesting and involved process.

Dale starts by cutting an 8×10″ section from a sheet of black-painted aluminum. He then works with the aluminum in his portable dark room, coating the black surface in a light-sensitive colloidal solution (or is it “collodion”? I’m not sure).

This is the cleverly constructed dark room:

And Dale, inside at work:

Talk about a stark contrast, me with my modern digital camera, snapping away at 3200 ISO (I couldn’t even see inside the dark room window with my own eyes but the camera was able to focus and record images), while Dale took a couple hours to make three exposures. We absolutely have no excuses these days. If we can’t make compelling images, the fault lies squarely with us.

Here Dale is composing for an exposure.

And he exposes the image, counting out the 10 seconds while holding the shutter open, this was at f/11.5, I think.

After the exposure Dale develops the plate in the dark room, then dips it in fixer:

Dale with a finished image:

On the third exposure Dale asked for a volunteer to sit in, I made the noble sacrifice. :)

This was a fascinating process, creating a beautiful artifact. Certainly something that we don’t get with digital cameras. It is involved though, and there is a lot that stands between the artist and his image.