photography year zero

This Fall I am going back to my Mountain Home to teach the best and weirdest class I’ve yet come up with. Obsessed as I am with re-imagining the earliest days of Photographic History, I’ve always wanted to do a class where we re-invented it all from scratch. That means starting with the scientific knowledge of the early 1800′s (including the light-sensitivity of Silver Nitrate, and the long history of cameras and lenses) and making everything on our own. Of course, this isn’t really feasible especially in a short class, considering the long exposure times needed for Photogenic Drawing negatives and the “extreme danger of trying to make one’s own Silver Nitrate. Hmm… How do I create the feeling of raw discovery and invention, anywhere near what our ancestors must have felt?

Well, I decided, what if instead of the Beginning of History, we imagine the End? A post-apocalyptic near future, where things we take for granted now must be rescued and preserved… we “survivors” could use whatever is left behind to make Art or document the New World. We could mirror the early technological advancements, making cameras with pinholes and broken lens parts, then trying different processes like Anthotypes with natural dyes from the woods, Salt Prints and Photogenic Drawings, on up to the Calotype Negatives, which are developed-out and finally fast enough for use.

I’m thinking we get nice apocalyptic nicknames and armbands, using First Aid kit supplies like cotton balls and gauze for brushes, old “maps” for paper, and so forth. There’s even a Calotype Variant that uses the tannins in Sumac as a developer. At night we can show training films. It’s gonna be so fun! Here’s the description:

dan estabrook – photography year zero

Suppose the Mayans were right? The world has ended, and zombies roam the mountain. It is up to one small band of would-be photographers to wrest truth and beauty from the ashes. With only a few scavenged supplies, we must reinvent photography from the ground up and rebuild the world in our image. We will build cameras from scraps and found objects and make pictures and prints from the most raw materials using a variety of 19th-, 20th-, and 21st-century techniques. No photographic experience required, but hand-to-hand combat skills may be useful.

Only ten students or so allowed, and I know a few who’ve enlisted already.

One thought on “photography year zero

  1. Hi Dan. We made gum prints and cyanotypes in a conservation class this week, and I thought of you. Your class sounds rad, I bet you all had fun. xo dangerpaws

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