Some of you may remember John from the original Execution/kickstarter video, or have listened to his band The Morning On Fire
He’s been a good friend for a long time and we immediately thought of featuring him for the project. We had taken this shot of him for his album last year, and ran with the concept for our own Execution photograph:
John’s creativity and dedication never cease to amaze us and once we started a dialogue with him we knew what we wanted to illustrate. When we asked him what his “sacrifice” or struggle was, his answer was identity. Struggling between who you think you are, who you really are, what you want to be, what you’re fans think you are, what you think they want to see, etc etc. It’s a common burden of the frontman, and John hasn’t been spared this himself.
We chose to depict John in 3 exposures, each referencing a part of the three part psyche (Id, Ego, Super-ego). We originally included a half drank bottle of whiskey for the shot, another relevant item to John and his personal struggles, but were unable to include it clearly in the final image due to the many lighting/chemical/space obstacles we encountered.
We shot between 3pm and 9pm, 4 plates. Excellent pours. 2 strobes. Slight window light. And absolutely no image, only strange artefacts and fogging. The last of the 4 had the faintest rim of John. We convinced him to stay the night, and woke up at sun rise the next day after doing research and talking until 4am.
Here’s a photo of the plate graveyard entirely from this shoot:
That morning we took all of the proper precautions that we had not known to take before running into all of these issues. We re-filtered and iced the Silver Nitrate bath, we mixed fresh hot weather developer at a stronger solution, we fixed a giant light leak in the side of the camera that we had somehow missed at our previous shoots and miraculously had still come away with plates, we used fresh egg whites to sub the sides of the plates instead of 6 month old egg whites that had been dragged 9000 miles across the U.S and through a few deserts, we upped the amount of lighting to 4 lights and moved them within inches of John, and we shot at the exact moment the sun was brightest (still diffused on an overcast day) through the attic window.
This is an Instagram photo of the lighting set up:
We came away at the end of the day with 2 images. One of which, I shit you not, disintegrated into a million tiny pieces as we put it into the water bath.
Of course, the Ambrotype gods only allow us 1 photo at a time and leave constant reminders about how they can so easily take away anything that we’ve come away with. What a fickle medium.
I spent 2 hours delicately wiping a developer haze off of this (our final and only) ambrotype with a wet cotton ball:
We learned so much from this shoot alone. So far every shoot we’ve cut ourselves, pushed our bodies to extreme lengths enduring heat and chemicals, and cried during every single shoot. Make an Ambrotype, Cry. That’s pretty much how it goes. And then after we gain some distance from the experience we end up accepting whatever has gone wrong, or whatever we originally didn’t like about the image, etc. You put so much of yourself into something, into these one of a kind objects, and you just expect perfection, and with an imperfect medium that’s just not always realistic. Making these is such an emotional experience, because of the pressures we’ve put on ourselves, the challenge of working in a difficult medium on this scale, and our own expectations of wanting to show everyone who funded our kickstarter how capable we are at executing this project. It may have taken 7 failures, but we finally got an image. It’s not the perfect image of what we wanted, but with all it’s imperfections it’s still this physical, fragile, object that is the culmination of so much effort, difficulty, and pure stubbornness. It’s almost something that just shouldn’t be, but then is, barely.