Or ” How to make new pictures old and stiff “. The fine art of making cheese out of the fresh milk of human kindness. It’s not the coming thing or the going thing. It’s the thing that comes again and won’t jolly well leave…
I set myself on this pathway years ago when I tried to make modern large format film emulsions look like historic daguerreotype or wet plate shots. It failed miserably, but not for want of trying – and was not done just with science. I was bathing and beating the poor old film something awful in the mistaken belief that it was the historic thing to do. The real pioneers tried to treat their recording surfaces as gently as possible. In those days I had access to chemicals that I would be debarred from now – indeed they won’t even let me have false teeth plastic these days for fear that I would make some sort of pink, veined bomb of it.
Well coming back to going back, the digital age has made it so much better. Plug-in programs that distress images are easy to come by and can be operated in a non-destructive fashion. With a little fiddling you can make Dags, wet-plates, tintypes, or Autochromes of every image you take. You have only to costume and pose your subjects to render the 19th century damn near perfectly imperfect. The addition of re-ground Petzval and Daguerreotype lenses for digital use is the final step in the chain – albeit an expensive one.
But one thing seems to have gone missing in the interval – years ago there was a firm of American re-enactor’s sutlers called Amazon Vinegar and Pickling Works that sold dress patterns, tin lanterns, clothing and accessories, and amongst their best items were plastic replicas of ” union cases” – the folding boxes that daguerreotype images were housed in. They were plastic, sure enough, but moulded from the real thing and were a wonderful recreation. I purchased three of them and still have two left.
Oh, that I could get more – I’d order a case lot and set to work filling them with the best of historic portraiture. No-one could afford to own more than one but that is in keeping with the history of the thing anyway.