I’d spotted this fantastic twisted looking tree from the road on the way back from shooting out at Hamilton the other day. It was on a property in front of an old 1830’s era house in Hayes. Y I stopped and went to the house to ask permission if I could shoot on their property. At first the woman that answered the door was very suspicious, not even opening the security door and asking me “why? what for?”, understandably, seeing as I was standing there, 6 foot 1, beanie, sleeveless metal tshirt with the words “BONGRIPPER” emblazened on the front and filthy jeans and doc martens.
I gave them my business card and briefly explained what I was doing and then a man came out from in the house and told me to come inside. Once in this fantastic little rabbit warren of an old, comfortable house with antiques and bric a brac absolutely everywhere he pointed me to I’m assuming the pride of his photographic collection; 3 enormous albumen prints from the wedding of famous American gunslinger Doc Holliday. To save the trouble of explaining the incredible story behind how he came to get them here is a link to an article written by the man in whom’s house I was now standing (well worth reading!):
He then proceeded to show me a wonderful collection of original ambrotypes, tintypes, cabinet cards and CDV’s of famous and prominent Tasmanians including the first Premier of Tasmania and the founding family of Walsch Optics here in Hobart.
Well, after a bit of chatting and a nice introduction to these interesting people I came home and got my chemicals and glass ready for today.
I arrived once again at the property this morning and immediately set up my camera and began composing a shot of the fantastic mulberry tree, which John told me was 130 years old, nearly as old as the house. It had split down the middle of the trunk and started growing along the ground. John told me they’d get about half a tonne of fruit off it a year.
I determined the exposure to be around 6min 20sec. During the exposure the light changed a little bit. The plate came out super, super bright. Almost on the cusp of being overexposed. It might almost be worth trying it again half or 2/3 a stop darker for prosperity but in any case I was absolutely elated at the cleanliness of the development. Even development to the absolute edges of the entire 11×14 plate.
Once I’d done this, as promised I set up to shoot an 8×10 plate of John and his wife in front of their house. Seeing as John knew the extensive history of the place since he had bought and restored it. He told me the people who built the house ran an apple orchard on 300 acres, then once the british joined the common trade they went into black currants. Since the the house got sold and the property broken down into smaller blocks along a failed line of farmers who were never able to do anything with the land. John seemed to know the history of the house back to front which was fascinating considering these days people probably couldn’t even tell you the name of the guy who built their house for them out of a kit home catalogue 6 months ago.
The plate I made of them came out nice. 2 second exposure. I had to move the camera right back so I could fit the house and them in it. I did this with the intention of the plate being cropped in a frame tightly and to make allowance for any artefacts around the edges, as they would have done in the old days. They were very happy with it. I fixed, washed and varnished the plate in front of them in their lovely garden. John also proceeded to tell me about his knowledge of the history of Tasmanian photographers from the 1860’s onwards. I was surprised that wet plate photography made it to Tasmania so quickly after it was introduced not 10 years earlier especially considering, as he said, that the photographers were all born in Tasmania and would have learned it here.
John and Kempi then showed me more of their ambrotype, tintype and cabinet card collection over coffee. What a treat. Among them were an actual tintype photo album (containing the original tintypes) of Ulysses S Grant and his family. The value of which I can’t even begin to fathom. I wasn’t sure they were the real deal until he pulled a tintype out of the album and I held it in my hand.
Kempi also showed me a small clear glass ambrotype of her great grandmother and grandmother & great aunt. It was such a cool feeling to hold these plates in my hand, made by someone doing the same thing as me so long ago. These things are such awesome artefacts and truly special.
John said as payment for me doing the portrait of he and his wife, he would get me a copy of the Tasmanian Photographers book. Would be fantastic to be able to get some good insight into the history of Tasmanian photography specifically because I know next to nothing about it.
Anyway I’ll update this with a scan of the sweet 11×14 plate later on. Terrified me when I got home to varnish it, once I’d poured the varnish on and was heating it over my butane lamp the thing caught on fire! This is the first time it’s ever happened to me. I managed to extinguish it before the image melted away. The varnish is a little weird looking but the image is safe.
So I got permission from these guys to shoot more around their property over the next couple of weeks. Some fantastic old sheds and trees around the back paddocks. A photographic playground. Very exciting.