Last night was really so wonderful, and I wake up smiling. What’s more, I’m breathing freely – the Elixir works! It’s a gray morning but the sun soon comes out, and it’s glorious, really beautiful. We had been planning on shooting at the Abbey before the tourists showed up at 10:30, but first I want to make sure Malin and Matt really have the process down. It’s mostly just little procedural things now – how much chemistry to lay down, how hard to brush, how long to wait… And of course our last few comet gremlins. It seems a good moment to go over everything once more, and to consolidate all that we’ve learned here.
One thing I learned from last night is how much heat affects our negatives… In my experience with wet Calotypes, heat is bad before exposure, but good for development. However, I’ve decided it’s causing the bulk of our comet problem. There’s one of the three coating stations in the darkroom which has a heater at the baseboard right under it. This has been mostly great for us. It’s kept the darkroom dry in all this wet weather (and warm after shivering in the Abbey) and allowed us to have dry paper to use pretty quickly after iodizing. However, whether it’s from heat and static drawing dust to the paper (or Mylar) or just some spontaneous development, it’s at that station that the problem with comets has been the worst. By making sure Matt and Malin work at the other stations away from the heat, I think we can stop the gremlins.
I start the day by going through the process from start to finish, shooting a quick portrait of Richard outside the darkroom (and, in the process, pretty much proving my heat hypothesis – last night’s image done at the other station was perfect; this one, done over the heater, has a big fat comet over Richard’s hat.) Next I thought I’d just hover over each of them as they did their first one of the day, making sure they have clean mylar and careful brushstrokes. No need to do any more tests right here, we thought. Let’s just get to the Abbey! Our goal was for them each to get a great one today, and to troubleshoot every small thing that comes up.
Once again Richard is helping Matt, carrying the heavy tripod and consulting on exposure, while Addison is at Malin’s side. I am bouncing around, trying to guesstimate the right exposure times for the different (bright!) light, and to try and shoot something of my own. I test out one of Richard’s single-wash iodized papers which seems such an obvious advance over Talbot’s method, but it doesn’t give me the contrast I’m used to getting. I may be too stuck in the old way.. It’s times like this that I wish Richard and I (and the rest of the Calotype Society ) had a week or two here to try out every possible combination. The fact that the paper negative was pretty quickly superseded by wet collodion means that it’s a technology that stopped developing before its time.* There must be more to discover and invent, somehow. It may take the 21st Century to do so.
We had talked about doing some initial Salt Printing today, to take advantage of the light and to give us time to shoot inside the Abbey rooms tomorrow morning, but the students are having too much fun – and too much success – shooting today to stop. We need to be iodizing papers too, or we won’t have any to shoot tomorrow, but it’s just so damn gorgeous out for a change. The flooded Avon has washed all over just beyond the Abbey’s ha-ha, it seems, and the world looks bright and green and newly born. We just want to run around in it, so we do.
Both Matt and Malin get four excellent negatives today. We managed to accomplish everything we wanted and then some in this light. And you should see Richard’s gorgeous negative of the tree, done with Pelegry’s process, putting us all to shame. It really is cleaner, easier and slightly less fickle than what we’re trying to do. I only hope the students don’t regret fighting with my (or rather Talbot’s) crazy hand-brushed version. I like to think the inherent hand-made quality has its own attractions, but I worry that that is my own unshared bias.
What we haven’t made time for is iodizing paper (the aversion to the grunt-work another bias they have already picked up from me) but we have to do it to shoot tomorrow. It’s well after class time that we’re still coating, soaking and washing, and we end up leaving our papers in the water and running to dinner, figuring an extra-long untended wash will equal my usual two hours of babysitting.
Tonight is a special night, however, since Roger Watson and his wife Laura have invited us all over for dinner at theirs. I get to the one local shop before it closes, but the wines on sale leave a little to be desired, so I grab a bottle of Jameson Whiskey to bring to the house. I just hate arriving empty-handed…. Richard and I walk up to the Bell to be picked up by Roger, and driven out to the farm. Rachel lives there too, in a trailer that must shake like hell in these storms. Malin will miss the party to stay with her baby and her mum, but Matt arrives a little later, and Addison and other neighbors round out a really lovely group of people. I stuff myself on Laura’s fajitas (and the whiskey, of course) and get into great ranting conversations about Rochester, Eastman House and historical processes with Roger.
By the time I get back to the darkroom, it’s past ten-thirty and the paper has been washing for four hours (a time incidentally suggested by other practitioners, according to Roger) so I assume it will be well-washed and fine for tomorrow. I am exhausted, of course, and breathing freely for the first time in days. I sleep well in the old Abbey.