Thursday, January 30, 2014

Side Tracked by Botany

I am surprised to find myself so interested in Kinney's close up and botany images. I was first drawn to Kinney's work through his campus views and architectural images. I am now drawn to these seemingly simple images of plant experiments.

First of all, I do not know what camera or cameras Kinney used. I do know that the images were primarily 5"x7" glass plates. I am guessing something like an Eastman wooden view camera. 

This particular one is an 8"x10" but it shows the extension rail that Kinney would have needed for his close up plant work.  To get an idea of what it was like to use a camera like this, especially for the close up roots shot, I'll go over some of the shooting process. 

  1. Load the film holders in the dark. (three wooden objects in back of the camera above) This could be done in a dark room or in a folding table top tent that you slid your arms into. The photographer had to make sure that the emulsion was facing outwards. A dark slide protected the plate from exposure when not being used. 
  2. Set up the camera on a tripod and position in front of the subject. 
  3. Open the lens to allow light to come through. Open the aperture blades all the way so the image will be visible.
  4. Drape a black cloth over your head and look at the ground glass on the back of the camera. The faint image will appear upside down and backwards.
  5. Adjust the focus. The front standard which the lens is mounted on moves forward and back on a geared track. The closer the camera is to the subject the more bellows will be extended.
  6. Determine the exposure. I am going to take some educated guesses at this. First the plates had an estimated light sensitive or ASA speed of 10. As a rule of thumb on a sunny day at an f stop of 16 the shutter speed would be the same as the ASA. Most of Kinney's plant pictures are inside with bright diffused natural light. Not as bright as a sunny day though. So as a start I would say f5.6 at 1/10. Next you have to determine how much extra time needs to be given for the long extension for close up work. Refering to a chart like the one below, I would estimate at least a 10x exposure factor depending on the lens used and how much bellows were extended.  This now puts us at f5.6 at 1 sec. 

The aperture f5.6 is too open for good detail in a close up image with a large format camera. Kinney would have to stop down to a smaller opening such as f16. This would increase his exposure. f8 @ 2 seconds, f11 @ 4 seconds, and finally f16 at 8 seconds. Now reciprocity failure of film comes into play. 

This chart gives you an idea of how the sensitivity of film falls off with longer exposure times. I would guess that Kinney would have to double the time giving a final exposure of f16 at 16 seconds.

8. These long exposure times needed great care while shooting. The slightest movement of the camera or subject for 16 seconds would result in a soft or blurry image. A truck driving by or a slamming of a door could result in a ruined image. 

9. I am amazed that Kinney did not bracket his images very much. I do not see many over or under exposed plates. He may have only kept the good exposures.

10. Finally the lens was closed and stopped down to the correct aperture. The shutter speed was set and the lens was cocked. The film holder was placed in the back of the camera and the dark slide was pulled. A cable release was attached to the shutter and depressed to make the exposure. 

Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz CLICK!

The dark slide was then slid back in place indicating that the emulsion was exposed and the the holder was flipped to the other side to allow for another exposure.

Next it was off to the darkroom for processing. This process was done in complete darkness for any where from 10 - 20 minute developing times, depending on chemistry. The plates were probably hung on stainless steel carries and then submerged into the developing bath.  Due to the consistency of Kinney's negatives, I think that he had a system down. One type of film with one type of developer, and not much experimentation. 

Technical aspects aside Kinney's plant images have a simple quietness to them. Even before working on this project, I have always enjoyed taking a walk down to the Mount Holyoke Talcott Greenhouse. Especially in the dead of winter, the warm sunlit rooms seem to fill the frame with endless compositions. I can only imagine on top of that feeling, to know that the plant on the glass was something that you nurtured and grew. 

Here are a few of my own images from the Talcott.

Monday, January 27, 2014

In the Field and at Home

After sorting and sleeving over 120 glass plates I am finding that Kinney had diverse photographic interests. It seems that this part of the collection, that is unprocessed in the MHC Archives, contains more of his personal work. The plates that are accessioned and in the archives' stacks are primarily campus views, group images, and interiors. The subjects in the past 12 boxes, include his home garden, his family, his plant experiments, wild plants, surrounding community and church events, and copy photography of older prints.

Today's processing included boxes 10, 11, and 12. All of these boxes were not sleeved and had no interesting pages between the negatives. Box ten contained some quiet scenes from his home garden. There were 12 plates of the rocks, trees, and natural landscaping around his house.

Warning! This next paragraph is very technical. Feel free to skip ahead...

This first plate is a good example of Kinney's camera skills when working with a 5x7 view camera. If you look closely, he was able to control the plane of focus to slice through the scene following the tree in the foreground across the the few rocks and back to the tree further away.  With slow glass plate film in his camera,  he  had to use a tripod, and while in the shade his lens would be set fairly wide open to let in more light. This would help to prevent long exposure speeds that keep increasing with what is called reciprocity failure. The longer you expose film, the more you will need to increase the time of exposure. Combined with the fact that larger format cameras have an even shallower depth of field from the use of longer focal length lenses, Kinney would have had just a 2 or three foot area in focus. If the lens plane was straight on to the subject the plane of focus would be perpendicular to the subject and limiting what would be in sharp focus. Kinney had to adjust the focus plane on his view camera to follow his subject. This is something that I love to look for in large format work.

All that tech talk aside, the images of his home garden feel very personal. They show a love of a space that is documented from varying vantage points and multiple times of day. They are quiet restful images that are meditative and filled with respect for nature.

Box 12 contained 10 plates from his daughter Elizabeth's wedding. The box did not have a date, just a scribble that noted the subject. The images are shot at his house. I have seen one particular structure in a number of images from around his property. Again, I am drawn to the shallow depth of field, that makes the subjects jump from the creamy soft background. At the same time the glass plates carefully capture every detail in the dresses. 

Box 12 was filled with plant images. The plates roughly followed this process: wild plants to cut and replanted, placed under glass and then labeled while placed in front of a white background. These images show how photography was an important tool in Kinney's botanical work. When I get to the lantern slide boxes later, he has many hand colored images of various plants and experiments. I do feel that these images go beyond mere documentation. The careful arrangement of the subject along with the "behind the scenes" view to his work makes the images feel more personal. I would love to know if there were any surviving notebooks that would describe some of the processes going on. 

I hope that this part of the collection will be digitized at some point. My project will focus on the accessioning of this material. The only work to be properly digitized will be the images that are selected for re-photography. I need to keep that scope of the project in mind so that I will stay on track with my time table. However, I will be an advocate for the future digitization of the collection. 

More to come...

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Working with what's nearby...

When working with boxes number seven and eight today,  I found a major difference from the previous material that I have been sorting. These thirty images were not sleeved like the others. This meant that there was much less debris from the crumbling envelopes, but it also meant that the negatives could have been scratched from being stacked directly on top of each other.

Another draw back to having these negatives not sleeved, was the lack of descriptive metadata. There were no names, dates or locations to record. The only slight bit of data was scribbled on the outside of the box, "Elizabeth and Foster". 

description on box 7 and 8

It took a while to decipher this. After seeing it written on a few boxes in a variety of different ways I was finally able to make it out.  These two boxes contained negatives that were shot of Kinney's daughter and son, Elizabeth and Foster, with a few shots with his wife, Joan. He seemed to have to include at least one animal as well. There was always a dog, cat or sheep nearby to be photographed.

After I dug into the box and past the first three 5"x7" negatives, Kinney started putting in scraps of paper as dividers between the plates. It seems that he wanted to protect the negatives from scratching. What I found most interesting about these two boxes wasn't the negatives themselves, but what Kinney used to separate the plates. 

Kinney interleaves negatives with postcards and advertisements
He used what he had nearby or handy. Most were divided by postcards of his, old prints, advertisements or photography instructions. One set of dividers seemed to be instructions from an early flash unit. I didn't find a date but seemed to be from between 1920's which puts it in line with the time period of the images. 

At first I thought they were just scraps from something that he had handy, but the images that these papers were separating were images of his family sitting near a fireplace and obviously looked lit with artificial light. I might hazard a guess that Kinney was experimenting with some new equipment. What willing subjects did he have nearby? His family was there to patiently sit for a portrait. This is completely speculative, but as a photographer I have tested out many flash set ups, new lenses, and cameras on pictures of my kids before using it in the real world. 

Joan and Foster Kinney

Joan and Foster Kinney

Foster Kinney

Elizabeth Kinney

Elizabeth and Foster Kinney

(Please note, the images in this blog are not the final archival scans from  the negatives. They are quick reference images shot on a light table, and used for organizing the plates.)

Kinney also photographed other nearby subjects. His house, garden, and the Mount Holyoke Campus were scenes that could often be found on his ground glass. The variety of Kinney's images show that it was more than just a scientific tool to document the growth of plants. He used photography to capture group photos, copy works of art, portraits, and landscapes. For example, Kinney would capture the scenes of the Holyoke Range not just in one or two images, but shoot up to six plates with little variation in exposure and subtle changes in composition. Photography seems to be more than a hobby and more than a tool. He didn't just shoot the important and grand subjects he photographed what was around him and nearby with a consistent dedication and passion.

Joan Kinney

Kinney House and Garden

Joan and Foster in the Garden
This last plate has an interesting texture to the emulsion. I believe the temperatures of his processing baths got out of control when developing this plate, resulting in emulsion reticulation. This can happen when the developer is too hot or the stop or fix are too cold. The result is a cracked look to the image.

Here are a few more everyday nearby items that were found separating the negatives.

More to come...

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Re-photographic Test

Here is a test that I did two years ago. The scans are from Asa Kinney's book so the quality is a bit rough. The final scans will be made from the original glass plates.  Some of the negatives will be from the unseen unaccessioned material, and some from the existing collection in the MHC Archives.

Click this link to see the video

MHC Rephotograph Test 1

I am keeping an eye open for possible scenes to capture while I am sorting and processing the new material. So far I found one view of the path to lower lake.

Asa Kinney "Walk to Lake, 1910"

Friday, January 17, 2014

Still taking silly pictures of our cats

I learned a little more about the Kinney family today and...

after 106 years of photography evolution we still use it to take silly pictures of our cats.

"Felis Sitting Up" 1908, Asa Kinney

"Cat Tub" 2014, James Gehrt
Box five has been primarily photos of Kinney's children, Elizabeth and Foster, their animals and the garden. The animals included, rabbits, chickens, a cat, a dog, and a few sheep. There were also a few images shot in the Kinney's garden. A garden gazebo called "Elizabeth's House"

I'll try to process a few of the quick images and post them soon.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

There are two sides to every story...

...or in the this case, every sheet of film.

top: emulsion
bottom: base

Emulsion and Base

When handling negatives, wether they are flexible or glass, it is important to be aware of the sides of the film. Film is made up of a base side and an emulsion side. The base is the substrate of the film. It is the surface that the "image" is sitting on.

The emulsion side, is the light sensitive coating that is applied to the base. The emulsion side of the film will have a dull matte look to it. Sometimes, if you have a very underexposed film and you are holding it over a dark surface, the image can appear to invert to a positive.

The base of the film is highly reflective. With glass, it looks like a sheet of glass. If you are working with flexible sheet film each sheet should have a notch code in the upper right corner. When the notch is in the right corner, the emulsion is facing you. Each film type also has a unique notch code, so the photographer knows what kind of film is being loaded or unloaded in the dark. It must have been difficult for plate photographers to be aware of the emulsion side during loading and processing.

There are many analogies for the base and emulsion. I remember someone describing it to me as, the base is the slice of bread and the emulsion is the butter.  Just like bread tastes better with butter, a glass plate image looks better with an emulsion. The emulsion is fragile and can be easily scraped or scratched, and at times can flake off of the base. This is why it is important to know what side of the film you are handling.

Inspection and Care

When viewing the images on the light table you will want the emulsion to be up, so it will not be scratched on the glass table top. Keep in mind, this will result in the image appearing backwards. It is also important to be careful when the emulsion is up when reviewing the images with a loupe. I try to just have the loupe float above the emulsion, until I find the spot that I would like to inspect, then I carefully set it down on the film. 

Glass plate negative emulsion lifting off of the base.
When sleeving the negative into a new archival negative sleeve it is important to have the seams of the envelope facing the base of the film. This will help protect the emulsion from any damage from glue or harder edges.

Gloves or No Gloves

I use a Kodak, camel hair brush to sweep away any debris left over from the old negative sleeve. A light quick sweep of the base and emulsion is done before going into the new negative sleeve.  You may also notice that I am not wearing gloves. When handling negatives, the oil from fingers can leave prints on the emulsion. However, I found that the danger of working with gloves and not having a feel for the negative could result in dropping the negative. I carefully wash and dry my hands frequently to reduce the chances of leaving fingerprints. Also, I handle the negatives only by the edges of the film. With flexible film, cotton gloves are a good idea, or even a latex glove gives better grip, but can be uncomfortable when working for long periods of time.

More sleeving and sorting today. Next I'll update some of the biographical information that I discovered recently. Stay tuned...