A Dog-uerreotype, and the Purity of Plates and Film


Of course, a Daguerreotype of a dog is completely impractical.  Avi here couldn’t sit still for 10 seconds, let alone 10 minutes or 20 minutes.

I’m having so much fun with these digital recreations, trying to get them to look the part of an original photo…but while they are amusing, they’re not … real.

They’re not pure.

Chris brought up the idea of doing these photos for real, which means getting hold of an antique camera, a boatload of chemicals, plates (glass or metal), and a whole lot of skill.

As exciting as it sounds, I’m absolutely petrified of taking real photos.  I shot with film cameras when I was a kid, but I certainly never had to *gasp* develop the film myself, and to be honest, I can’t even remember how load film into a camera!  And winding it after each picture?  And not being able to check the shot you just took?  EEK!

I have an absolutely gorgeous mid-20th-century Zeiss Icon that Chris gave me for a gift a couple years ago.  I bought a roll of 35 mm to go in it, an just loaded it with that film last week.  It’s sitting here looking at me, saying “go take some photos today, Lauren,” but I don’t know how!  You have to…to…estimate the distance, and set the aperture accordingly, and the shutter speed all manually, and there’s no focusing through the viewfinder, and how on earth am I going to take a decent photo with this thing?

My Zeiss, my beautiful Zeiss.

It gets crazier, far crazier, with pre-film cameras.

But you see, these are lost technologies that will evaporate into the fabric of history very soon, if they haven’t already.  Daguerreotypes cannot be made today because the chemicals involved are unavailable.  There is something about the idea of working with a real 8×10 or 4×5 bellows-ed camera, with a leather and wood case, that might serve to connect us to the past in the same way that creating historical gowns and wearing them has served as my portal into history.  When I think of it this way, it simply must be done….


  • The Laced Angel

    September 6, 2011 at 9:04 PM

    You're making me want to drag out my old manual Minolta . Hell, do stores even carry real film anymore?

    And what a fantastically creepy Dog-uerreotype of Avi! Something about this style of picture makes for creepy eyes, no matter who the subject is.

  • Kristin

    September 6, 2011 at 10:36 PM

    I want to get my Minoltas out, too!

    For me, shooting manually on my DSLR was way harder then on my film cameras.

    Pretty soon my film bodies and lenses will become decorations. 🙁

  • Nycteris

    September 6, 2011 at 11:18 PM

    I did film photography in high school, and had a lot of fun shooting in black-and-white and developing the film. It'd better not become a lost art, because it's AWESOME! 🙂 If you decide to shoot with old-fashioned cameras, I'm sure you'll have a lot of fun!

  • Lauren R

    September 8, 2011 at 9:40 AM

    I'm do curious about film, and Chris wants to get into it too. I can just imagine dressing in costume and taking the 120 year old plate camera out to an event and taking *real* wet plate negatives. purrrrr. So much win all at once!

  • Joseph Hisey

    September 8, 2011 at 4:39 PM

    They must have loved that dog. It would not have been a cheap undertaking. I have posted a Costume Study tour to my blog. jhisey.blogspot.com
    Check out the details, looking for participants to make this happen.

  • Anonymous

    September 9, 2011 at 4:09 PM

    My husband and I take wet plate collodian (ambrotypes) photographs using antique lenses and reproduction cameras and developing equipment. He'd like to branch into daguerreotypes as well–although the mercury development was the most common, it's not the only method that was used. Daguerreotypes can also be made with less hazardous materials (bromides, I think?). The chemicals are all still available, you just have to get a licence to purchase them, and have to learn the modern names for everything. Scully & Osterman are a wonderful source of information at http://www.collodion.org/index.html . We attended their conference on antique photographic methods in 2001, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who is serious about learning how to do this "for real."

    As a side note, the sit-still time for early photographs is actually closer to 10 to 20 SECONDS, not minutes. 🙂 The longest exposure we've ever had was 2 minutes, and that was an after dark photo lit by candles.

  • Lauren R

    September 10, 2011 at 6:10 PM

    Material World, lol, it's my dog in the photo.

    Natsunekko, how awesome! I want to do it, too, so we're shopping for a camera. I have to disagree, though, about the Daguerreotypes – they didn't reduce the exposure time to seconds until a good ten years beyond when they were first being used. It's not a wet collodion process for a D-type, that was later, with ambrotypes and tin types, very very different from Daguerreotypes. When Chris and I get into it, it'll have to be for tin types, like you guys do, because there's no way to get ahold of the mercury needed to do the D-types, plus they're SO unstable, it's just impractical. Wet collodion plates, though, yes, absolutely.

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