After being greeted by 55 mph winds at Horeshoe Bend and getting one of our vehicles stuck axel deep in the Bonneville Salt Flats we only had one last chance to test out the Mammoth Camera, our hardware, and chemicals before returning home to continue the Execution Project. We had toyed with the idea of shooting “Balanced Rock” in Arches National park, but feared that we would not be allowed access on such short notice, and weren’t quite sure about what the park administration’s reaction would be to an impromptu set up of an 8×8 darkroom tent chock full of chemicals, and a 5 ft long camera monster. We camped along route 128, outside of Moab and knew that there would be a number of accessible and beautiful opportunities to create the Ambrotype we had been dreaming about.
We awoke at 6am, after scouting until 4am and immediately began to clean and prep the 24×20 inch black glass, set up the camera, tent, and pour the chemicals. I had a particular rock face in mind that was near our campsite when I peaked over and saw Steve (a close friend, our graphic designer, and for this trip videographer/all around sanity maintainer to Nicole and myself) At first I assumed he was about to go to the bathroom, then I noticed he was actually holding his arm up to see the cliffs through the sun glare. How iconic I thought, and after recently becoming addicted to instagram, I of course had to instagram this photo.
We all looked at the image on instagram, and I decided to take one with my 5D MKII, to see the difference and have in case I ever wanted to edit it.
I was immediately irritated, liking the instagram photo taken with an IPhone with an instagram filter more than the one taken with a $2500 camera with a $2000 lens. And suddenly I realized that this was the shot that I wanted to take. Nicole came over and decided to wear the black dress, and we toyed with a few pose ideas but the original always came back the best. I snapped this as an exposure reference before calculating from 50 ISO to the collodions film speed of about .35 ISO.
After finishing the set up:
IPhone photo taken by Steve Trevathan
We finally ended up with this 20×24 Ambrotype:
This ambrotype has an intentional vignetting that appears when focusing on a distant subject due to the lens’ coverage. We still have a quite a few technical hurtles to overcome when shooting in a hot desert setting, but are quite pleased with how the camera and set up worked out. Can’t wait to start shooting more subjects for the Execution series!