Last year Dave Smith and I assisted Omar Lopex with a construction worker portrait project that collaborated with Betina Hubby’s Dig the Dig at the Santa Monica Museum of Art. This year we were fortunate enough to be hired for a similar yet different wet plate portrait project. In addition we were joined by fellow photographer Catherine Segura.

8th+Hope will soon be downtown Los Angeles’s newest luxury apartment complex. As a celebration of their grand opening we were hired to create tintypes of the construction workers using wet plate collodion. The complex is about a month away from completion and we found the job site comprised mostly of a bunch of hardworking glaziers from the Local 636.

Rendering of the 8th+Hope apartment complex
Rendering of the 8th+Hope apartment complex

The wet plate process is a slow one, requiring about an average of 10-20 minutes for one image, and for this project we needed to make about 30 usable plates between two days. The problem was that the workers were only available during scheduled breaks. In order to minimize wait times we brought two darkboxes, one dedicated to pouring collodion and sensitizing (left), the other dedicated to developing (right).

two darkbox setup
The two darkboxes used on site.

Close up of the sensitizing darkbox
Close up of the darkbox used for sensitizing plates, my home for about 11 hours. Two silver tanks were necessary to keep up with demand on the second day.

The apartment complex was in its final stages of completion and therefore did not resemble a construction zone from the outside. As such, we setup a black background in order to isolate our subjects. The construction workers were surprising receptive to the whole project and at times we had lines of 10+ workers who sacrificed their break time in order to get their chance at a portrait.

Below you can find a few favorites of mine from the two days. I apologize for the low quality cellphone pics; the plates have not been scanned yet at the time of this posting.

Portrait setup
Behind the scenes.

Glazier portrait1
Glazier portrait #1.

Glazier portrait2
Glazier portrait #2.

Glazier portrait3
Glazier portrait #3.

Glazier portrait4
Glazier portrait #4.

Glazier portrait5
Glazier portrait #5.

Glazier portrait6
Glazier portrait #6.

Self portrait on the job site
Self portrait during some rare down time

Special thanks goes out to the amazingly talented photographer duo Angela and Ithyle, who shared their beautiful home with us once again.


Living History in Old Town San Diego. 5×7 tintype of a Mountain Man named Jay taken last Saturday

Mountain man reenactor dressed in animal skins


The plate below highlights one of the difficulties of working with wet-plate collodion in a peculiar way. About a year ago my girlfriend and I were volunteering for Ladies Day in Old Town San Diego and both of us were required to check out period attire. Neither of us really wear a hat on a daily basis, so when Samantha sat down to pose for a tintype, it didn’t occur to us that there would be an exposure difference on the shadow created by her bonnet in comparison to the rest of her body. This is the result:

This could have been avoided by simply tipping the bonnet back, having Samantha look to the sky slightly, or bouncing some light in with a reflector.

The backdrop in the photo was provided by Dave of Nick and Dave photography


Cat puzzle in a community college classroom

This jigsaw puzzle mysteriously showed up in my statistics class one day.


The remains of a 19th century barn at Warner's Ranch

Saturday June 1st marks the opening of Warner-Carrillo Ranch House after a lengthy restoration project. The adobe ranch house was originally built in 1857 and served as a stopping place for frontiers men and women traveling on the Butterfield Overland Stage Route.

On Saturday I’ll be assisting Nick and Dave at the opening event, but today we had the opportunity to do some location scouting. We took turns sharing one dark box, focusing on the outside of the newly restored Warner-Carrillo Ranch House, but towards the end of the day I discovered an interesting angle while exploring inside the ruined 19th century adobe barn. I set myself up for a 15 second exposure, which turned out to be severely under exposed even with about ~25 seconds of develop time. Omar prepared a plate for my camera and tried the same shot using a 45 second exposure time, which looked a lot better but we all agreed more time was needed. Right before we started packing up for the day I tried one last shot with an exposure of 60 seconds (it’s really boring counting to yourself for an extended period of time) and then I developed for about ~20 seconds and the above photo was the result.

Click here for more information on the Warner-Carrilo Ranch House Grand Opening
Wikipedia: Warner’s Ranch


Chicano Park The Undocumented Worker Mural
Chicano Park, 2012

Part of The Undocumented Worker mural by the late Michael Schnorr. Earlier this year Chicano Park was entered into the National Register of Historic Places


Yesterday was the first Saturday of the month and so once again I met up with Nick and Dave in Old Town to make some plates of the locals in period clothing. Yesterday I also sat down with Becky the Old Town volunteer coordinator and started the paper work to make my time official with the park. I’ve been assisting Nick and Dave since April of last year but never thought start the paper work to collect volunteer hours. The application/interview have already been completed and now I just need to get a live scan from a local police department and work on my period attire.

Things were pretty busy yesterday. In addition to Nick, Dave, Joe, Omar and myself, we also had three High Tech High students Zimri, Giuliano and friend, Catherine, and a new comer named Don. We had three large format cameras (one was a stereo camera) and two dark boxes running pretty much non stop all day. Unfortunately most of the day was spent trouble shooting some chemical fogging, and with so many new people joining us I opted to spend the majority of my time assisting those in need.

Portable wet plate darkbox
A look inside one of the portable darkboxes used to prepare/develop plates in the field.

We first met Don last month when he happened to come across Nick and Dave’s photo booth in Old Town. He was back on Saturday, ready to get his hands dirty. In addition, he also introduced us to his friend Ken and Ken’s wife Gail. Ken is a retired Gunnery Sergeant and has had a life long passion for all things related to the Civil War. We weren’t expecting him, but yesterday Ken and his wife showed up and brought along some period authentic outfits. Ken had two different spectacular civil war era USMC uniforms and my faovrite, a General Ulysses S. Grant uniform. I’m certainly no expert, but you could tell Ken had put countless hours into perfecting his uniforms and everything just looked authentic. My first attempt was with Ken in his civil war era Marine band uniform. I had some severe chemical fogging but I tried again once Ken had changed into his General Grant uniform and this time I was successful.

5 second exposure with some light bounced in using a white reflector (thanks Joe!).

Ken Serfass as General Ulysses S. Grant
Old Town San Diego, 2013.


George in Old Town

I met up with Dave in Old Town San Diego last weekend. I’ve been having some dark slide woes with my 5×7 camera so I left the whole thing at home but still made my way over to Old Town to get some wet plate practice. Leaving my camera at home turned out to be a good thing because Nick was home sick and Dave needed help in the “dark room”. This is a half plate I took of a Civil War reenactor named George. It’s taken months of practice but I’m starting to feel comfortable with my pouring technique.


This morning I got up at 5:30 AM in order to get a good spot for the the South Bay Power Plant implosion here in Chula Vista. Here are some quick edits – click for big!

South Bay Power Plant Implosion February 2013

South Bay Power Plant Implosion February 2013

South Bay Power Plant Implosion February 2013

South Bay Power Plant Implosion February 2013

South Bay Power Plant Implosion February 2013

South Bay Power Plant Implosion February 2013

South Bay Power Plant Implosion February 2013


Inside a backlit shed
Bombay Beach, California, 2013 (click to enlarge)