Victoriana and Historic Process Ambrotypes


Loosing Identity: Digital Studies for Ambrotype Triptych
Copyright 2013 Mary Yates

The Finer Things:
Digital Study for Ambrotype
Copyright 2013 Mary Yates
To create this work I used a marriage of modern and historic techniques. My Ambrotype is a late 1800's photographic process similar to the tintype with the main characteristic difference being the use of glass instead of metal as the support material for the emulsion. These ambrotypes were created using what is known as the dry-plate method which became fashionable after the earlier wet plate method. Early photographers viewed dry plate as a breakthrough because it made for a less temperamental process with similar visual qualities. The process starts with image capture using a DSLR camera. The images here are from staged studio shoots as well as gathered from the Museum of Natural History in Berlin. I'm a big fan of theater and that is reflected in the Victorian props and costumes used for the photographs. For me, the paradoxes of the private vs public and social restrictions in Victoriana fit well with the exploration of gender and identity and the photographic process itself.
Shadow Self
Digital Study for Ambrotype
Copyright 2013 Mary Yates
Ambrotype is a direct positive process so I first printed these images on a transparency film to use in the exposure of the plates. The glass is thoroughly cleaned and then a thin coating of gelatin is applied and allowed to dry. Next, a layer of silver nitrate photo emulsion is heated and poured over the gelatinized plate. Once the plate is dry it is exposed using a direct positive contact printing method. The plate could also be exposed using a large format camera though that is not the process I use. Once the plate is exposed it is processed in a reversal developer that develops only the lighter areas leaving the dark glass exposed to form the shadow values in the image. The last steps involve applying a UV inhibitor and clear lacquer to protect the surface of the plate.
One of the qualities I love about working in the ambrotype process is the way the photograph becomes a dimensional object. Working with stained glass and the mounting materials which include velvet, antique photo cases, or repurposed frames allows the photograph to acquire weight and assert itself into physical space. This creation of an object that can be considered "precious" or "finer" also seemed interesting when juxtaposed with then non-traditional subject matter.

The Gentle Art of Taxidermy II
Digital Study for Ambrotype
Copyright 2013 Mary Yates