People sometimes ask me if I can shoot color photographs with Brownie In Motion. “Yes,” I tell them, “but, I don’t because of the toxicity of color chemistry. Plus, it’s really hard to get your hands on Cibrachrome these days!”
That said, my friend and fellow photographer Jeremiah Stilson recently unearthed a color photograph that he made in 2014 using Brownie In Motion while I was visiting North Carolina.
What a surprise! I’d totally forgotten about Jeremiah shooting this test photograph of me with 4×5 film pinned inside of the Brownie! For numerous health/logistical/economic reasons, I don’t intend to start shooting color photos with this camera anytime soon but it’s nice to know\show that it can be done!
Jeremiah Stilson studied Fine Art at The Ohio State University, and currently resides in New York. See his work at StilsonStudio.com .
Reader of this blog may be wondering, “What happened to the Brownie In Motion team? Why did the story leave off so suddenly? Where are Micah, Steve and the world’s largest Brownie camera..?
I truly must apologize to you. I left you hanging and for that I’m very, very sorry. The journey is far from over! Please let me explain.
What happened was that I returned to Columbus. I returned to take advantage of the opportunity to teach my dream class – Alternative Camera Systems – at The Ohio State University!
It was a very busy but very rewarding semester! During this upper-level photography course, undergraduate and graduate students explored an a-typical amalgam of photographic systems, including pinhole cameras, plastic lens cameras, peel apart film and a variety of DIY tricks. Though the class officially ended in mid December, our experience will culminate in an exhibition titled, ‘The Great Camera Build Off.’
The Great Camera Build Off opens this Friday, January 9th at EASE Gallery in Columbus, Ohio and features photographs and handmade cameras created by OSU students.
Every artist participating in The Great Camera Build Off was tasked with creating a new camera using a piece of obsolete equipment that Bob Hite (the OSU photo lab manager) and I collected from dusty nooks, forgotten boxes and rarely touched cabinets at OSU and my own personal collection. The resulting exhibition features both the handmade cameras (many of which are quite sculptural) and the images produced by each.
Although all of the cameras and images were created using analog (ie. film-based) materials, the output varies and includes digital inkjet prints, as well as those made in the darkroom.
The Great Camera Build Off opens Friday, January 9th at EASE Gallery and runs until February 7th. If you’re local, please come to the opening reception tomorrow from 7-9 to say hello, meet the student artists and enjoy food and drink on us!
Colorado was a blur and our workflow was irregular at best. Between visiting with friends and family, being rained out of several locations, and wanting to sightsee, the Brownie-In-Motion team managed only 2 camera obscura shoots in our 8 days there; the Genoa wind farm, and the Red Rocks Park. We fell in love with the rapidly shifting landscape, the color palates painted on various altitudes. It was with a heavy heart that we left Carbondale on Monday, quietly driving away from our little mountain paradise.
Our next location, Arches National Park just outside Moab, Utah. That evening we cruised through the park scouting locations for our shoot the next day. The surrounding landscape, epic in proportions, compared with nothing I have ever seen. To the south, Mt Peale darts into the clouds and the Moab fault runs into an adjacent valley seeming to stretch on forever. Deep reds, washed out greens, and endless blue skies serve to accentuate the stone formations that towered around us. Throughout the whole time at Arches, my sense of awe never diminished.
Overnight we camped out on Route 162 about 10 miles northeast of Moab. Route 162 is a scenic byway that runs down the Colorado river in Southeastern Utah, coming out of the Rockies and slowly dissipating into the desert. It was dark by the time we arrived, but our camp setup is rather minimalist and easy to accomplish in the dark. A hammock, sleeping pad, or simple tent make for good sleeping pretty much anywhere.
Our campsite was hot, humid, and riddled with insects of all kinds. Not 20 minutes after we set up and prepared dinner, a strong wind picked up and our non-rainproof camping arrangements started feeling quite inadequate. We rushed to get our things packed away again but before we finished the rain came on without hesitation. With one of our tarps and a nearby fencepost, Stephen created an impromptu lean-to that connected to the back doors of the van. With our aluminum Bud Light bottles and mac n’ cheese, we settled in for a nice, albeit wet, dinner. Laughing at the improbability of rain in a desert, we slowly got cold, drenched, and dirty. When the rain let up, we relocated camp to a picnic shelter down the road. On our nighttime drive through scenic 162, we laughed, shivered, and sang ‘Strangers in the Night’ to passing cars as we made our way down the lonely road.
By 6:15 A.M. the next morning, with only 3 hours of sleep, we were back at Arches ready to work. The only others inhabiting the park were clearly photographers, hobbyists & professionals alike. No one in the park seemed to interested in our giant camera; a few tourists scampered by with raised eyebrows but during our 6 hours there we only spoke with three people. Right as Steve was finishing what would be our final shot at the park, a ranger approached us. We narrowly escaped a $500 citation at the graces of the ranger, and were issued a verbal warning. Luckily the large paper negative Steve had just developed turned out to be perfect
After breaking down the camera, I encouraged a little more exploration since we hadn’t actually got to go up to the rocks much. I climbed around gaily while Steve snapped some pictures inside the Double Arches. The next destination for us, the Bonneville Salt Flats. Hopefully we catch some wild speed trials, or at least perform some ourselves.
On 10:15 A.M. on Thursday, July 17th, Stephen and I blazed a trail westward from Columbus. We had been at his studio until 3:00 A.M. the night before; packing, plotting, and recording one hell of an inspirational monologue from a fellow artist at 400 West Rich. The van was filled to capacity with the world’s largest Brownie camera, 5 tripods, 12 other cameras of various sizes and styles, Stephen’s homemade developing cart, a guitar, a ukulele, camping gear, darkroom supplies, and a cooler filled with food.
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We drove without cruise control, rolled the windows down, and chain-smoked unapologetically. Our only mission for the first day was to put as many miles between Ohio and us as possible. The first 600 dusty miles brought us through western Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Eastern Missouri. I picked out a campsite about an hour west of St. Louis, Little Lost Creek Nature Reserve. I really had no idea what to expect, and was pleasantly surprised when we discovered a secluded, shady site well removed from the highway.
Upon arrival, Steve serenaded me on the ukulele while I prepared our kielbasa and canned sauerkraut dinner over a fire. We drank some tall cans of beer and waxed philosophic. I brought two hammocks along and that first night on the road found us sleeping suspended by pine trees. Camping by hammock is super comfortable. Normally, I sleep like a baby but late that night, I was startled awake by coyotes howling recklessly from what sounded like 20 yards away. Unable to fall back asleep, I nervously awaited sunrise, losing myself in the textures and sounds of the woods. Serious moonlight gently brushed the top of the old pines, cool air swaying above our heads. I listened to the crickets, frogs, and coyote as one listens to an orchestra. Breathing gently with the crescendos and lulls. Each creature instinctively knowing its place, without a conductor they perform in perfect time.
The next afternoon, we stopped in Manhattan, KA to grab some food, recharge our batteries, and plot our next move. In Caribou Coffee tucked inside a Hy-Lee grocery store, it was decided that we camp at Lake Wilson around 120 miles west on I-70. I picked up a Go-Pro in Manhattan and I was excited to shoot some underwater footage in what was reported to be the “Clearest Lake in Kansas.”
As the van eased through hills towards Lake Wilson, the sunset highlighted the rocks filling us with awe. Steve had expressed interest in shooting a wind farm, and on the approach to the lake the prairie landscape populated with giant turbines and the occasional limestone outcropping seemed perfect; the kind of landscape we were thirsty for. Inspired to shoot the next day, we slowly rolled around to the east side of the lake to inquire about a campsite.
Connie Cash was checking in RV’s at an info kiosk across the damn. Connie was the first person we made a real connection with on this trip. She was excited to guide us to all sorts of strange eccentric local attractions, the kind of things unique to rural Kansas. Following her suggestion, we checked into a Camp Lucas on the North shore of the lake. We ate apples and cheese in the cool windy twilight as we set up camp. Our plan had been continue to Denver in the morning, but, like an unexpected love interest, Kansas had seduced us with her landscapes, setting the stage for our first Brownie shoot.
Following Connie’s suggestion, our first stop on Saturday was an old dusty town called Lucas, 14 miles north of Lake Wilson. Known for it’s eccentric art installations. This funky town in rural Kansas is full of limestone carvings, industrial farming equipment, old limestone buildings, and numerous oddball tourist attractions. From a giant mosaic sculpture of a toilet to the Garden of Eden – the residence of an early 20th century sculptor concerned with class struggle – I found Lucas thoroughly full of the kind of weird that only the rural Midwest can provide. (Inside of the Garden of Eden, the sculptor is preserved in a glass casket.) In Lucas, a 4th generation meat market making old school bologna and pepperoni from a 100-year old family recipe caught our attention as a potential subject for the Brownie In Motion project. The owner seemed uncomfortable with the idea but tipped us off about getting access to the wind farms the next county over.
An hour later, driving along unpaved country roads, we knocked on the doors of several farmhouses to ask permission to photograph on their land. On the third try, a greasy farm dog greeted us and a quiet old man gave us permission to shoot in his pasture down the road. A few miles later, we saw what we thought was a good spot to setup, tall grass and corn beneath massive spinning industrial wind turbines. The location was surreal, scenic, and reassuringly Kansas. Brimming with optimism, our dynamic duo pulled in and began setting up.
Seven hours later, things were very different. After battling with the wind, tripping on gopher holes, being harassed by biting flies, and baking alive inside the Brownie, it seemed failure was upon us. The wind was a steady 20 mph and the Brownie’s lens shook uncontrollably as a result. The first positive shots weren’t developing well, and then the negatives couldn’t focus because of the vibration. Stephen is a persistent worker though; despite the 94-degree heat, we kept shooting until we ran out of light. I was sunburned, dehydrated, impatient, and ready to give up after this flop. Our gear was splayed out in the tall prairie grass, making packing up an even greater frustration for the both of us. Sitting in the car and waiting for Stephen, misery sank in quickly. I didn’t feel like talking. I was twitchy and itchy from black fly bites, and could feel my tired muscles screaming for hydration. The silence was overwhelming in the car, my ears longing for music. I grabbed the ipod and desperately scanned for something to get us back to camp.
“Get the hell away from this nightmare.” I was thinking to myself. I was ready to tuck tail and head home, when Stephen offered me a pull of Black Velvet. Neil Young’s Harvest, a shot of whiskey, and a few smokes on the way back had us belting out each tune with reckless abandon. Our spirits rose high once again at the sigh of Lake Wilson in the prairie sunset. Later that night relaxing under the stars was all we would manage. A few meteors glinting in the north, and the great blanket of stars pulled me into sleep. We had skirted with disaster and made it out the other end. Even with a bad taste in our mouths, tomorrow back on the road would be a better day.
Last week, I was amazed by how many people came out of the woodwork during the final hours of the Brownie In Motion campaign and showed their support. Although we did not meet our goal, we did raise almost $4,000 for the project! Thank you so much for believing in this project! Everyone who publicly contributed has now been added to the Brownie In Motion Donor Hall of Fame on stakacs.com
A huge shout out and thank you to Molly Burke, Alison Stittsworth, Thomas Wagner, Ralph Fredericks, Miel Paredes, Darryl Baird, James Smith, Ed Gately, Berry Booth, Brittney Denham, Brad Baillie, Jenna Gordon, Roman Holowinsky, Amy Cubberly-Yeager, Chad Cochran, Dan Hausman, Larissa Hall, Elizabeth McManus, Casey McCarty, Chrissy Gillogly and those other generous contributors who prefer to remain anonymous! Your support means so much!
I’m now in the process of planning the next road trip with the camera obscura. If you have any suggestions on places to stop or artisans to photograph, please shoot me a message!
Please keep checking back for updates on Brownie In Motion!
A huge thank you goes out to my friend and OSU STEAM Factory colleague Roman Holowinsky. I’m not only thankful for his generous donation to the Brownie In Motion campaign but also for his ongoing enthusiasm, and encouragement. Without Roman’s sense of long-term vision, neither the OSU STEAM Factory nor the Brownie In Motion project would exist as we know them today.
For those of you not familiar with The Steam Factory, our purpose is to promote interdisciplinary collaboration in the OSU community across the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math. To disseminate research, technology and pedagogy through public interaction and to create new ways in which our work can impact a broader audience. Brownie In Motion was actually constructed with budgetary support from an Outreach and Engagement Grant that the STEAM Factory wrote together.
Chris Gatten wrote an awesome article on Brownie In Motion in this month’s 614 Magazine, which is illustrated with photos by the talented Chris Casella! I’d like to thank the whole 614 team, including editor-in-chief, Travis Hoewischer, for including me in their magazine! If you haven’t pick up a copy yet, do it soon before they disappear from the newsstands!
I’m proud to say that the band featured on the cover of this month’s issue are my long time friends Damn the Witch Siren! They just release a new EP earlier this month called Super Delicious. This rump shaking record, which channels both Madonna and early Nine Inch Nails, is like a bowl of coco-puffs – processed, crunchy and oh-so-sweet!
I want to remind you that there are only 5-days left to support Brownie In Motion on indiegogo, please donate today and help us make it happen!
Dry Plate Tintypes with Liquid Photo Emulsion – Adult Workshop
The Tintype image was introduced in 1853 as a less expensive alternative to its predecessor, the wet plate collodion Ambrotype. Tintypes were originally made on a thin sheet of blackened copper that were sensitized to light and exposed in the camera to produce the beautiful one-of-a-kind images that became popular during the Civil War era. Though originally patented as the Ferrotypes or Malainotypes, they were commonly referred to as Tintypes due to the comparatively low cost of producing and purchasing images on thin metal plates.
During this two-day workshop, OCAC alum Stephen Takacs will introduce you to a contemporary dry plate variation of the tintype process that utilizes anodized aluminum plates sensitized with liquid photographic emulsion, rather than the wet plate collodion coated copper plates of the past. While the primary focus of the workshop is on exposing pre-coated plates in the camera, you will learn about contact printing from digital positives, dry plate darkroom chemistry, and techniques for coating, drying, exposing, and processing dry plate tintypes as you produce your own unique Dry Plate Tintypes.
* A supply list and invoice will be mailed to you after registering. If you’d like to view the list please email firstname.lastname@example.org