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

American Gothic

Another image with masks and slightly different coloring. I can't wait to see these printed out large. Someone commented that these mask image reminded them of a modern antique version of American Gothic. Maybe, but I like to think of it as a hybrid between the Chinese and Russian myths of the woman of the snow or frost. It has a more fairytale feel to me. I also want to give thanks to Terry Wunderlich for the super masks.

Dirty Soft

Another image from the recent set. I am constantly amazed at how wonderful my friends are for playing along with my crazy ideas. I'm so lucky to have this energy in my photographs. I think there is a real advantage to a playful approach to staging photos, everyone brings something unexpected to the experience. We play together, we create and I get to indulge my voyeuristic nature. Lucky me! Thanks guys!

Another Image from the Saturday Shoot

Another image from the shoot the other night. A friend whose work I admire suggested I play a little with colors, so I left a hint of the feather and eye color on this image and also used the ochre of the feathers to dirty the image up. Thanks for the suggestion and I'm curious what you all think. I believe the other image has a more sinister quality where this is more tranquil, but still out of the ordinary. More to come!

Recent Studio Work

I had some friends over last Saturday night for drinks and some casual head shot portraits evolved into some more complex play in the studio. I'm so happy with the new pieces and have started processing them in this dirty, antique-looking style. There is something in the aesthetic of old photographs that really appeals to me and I try to bring that into my work. Since I can't be in the darkroom printing tintypes right now, I like working with this digital conversion that is reminiscent of cracked old photos found in the corner of an attic. I like the creepy quality the mask gives to the woman and the stoic look of the man.

I understand that there is a certain morbidity to my work and have struggled with the appeal of main-stream single image photographs. As much fun as it is to make a beautiful image and to have people respond to the "pretty", I think that embracing my shadow self is truly where my most creative and exciting possibilities reside.

A few samples of this work will be forthcoming, as well as a couple of images that are from my commodified humans project.