reflected on glass

18 Jul

Anonymous, Two Seated Men, c. 1860

My friend Eric Robinson is on his way out West to go on a photographic adventure, setting up a tent in San Francisco to document the leather community with his large format camera.  Not only will he be setting up photographs, but he will be using an antique process of photographic imagery.  He will mix several batches of chemicals (called chemistry by us photo nerds).  In order to test his chemistry, I felt like it would be a great idea to arrange a shoot before he left.

Technologically, photography serves as a form of documentation– accurately recording people, their identities and in this case, their relationship with one another.  Photographers such as Catherine Opie and Loren Cameron use the medium to record and validate queer identities.  Historically, many anonymous photographers would make images of same-sex couples.  David Deitcher, a photo collector and historian, compiles many of these images of gay male portraits in his book Dear Friends: American Photographs of Men Together, 1840-1918.  Jareth and I wanted to make a portrait in a similar fashion to these photographs.

We went over to Eric’s basement studio to make these portraits.  The process of making an ambrotype, or glass plate photograph, is very time consuming.  Each glass plate must be cleaned, coated with emulsion, exposed, and then hand developed.  This made for a very long day with very few results.  No image is alike because of the time between shots and temperament of home-made chemicals.  Each ambrotype created is an authentic tangible piece of art.  These images demand to be held tenderly yet have a material weight that gives form to the spectre-like tonal ranges and shadows. We planned for a couple hours to make these images but they ended up taking the entire day.  Still, we only ended up with five or so plates that were exposed well enough to keep.

After much deliberation, we were allowed to keep one of the glass plates and the rest we left for Eric to keep and exhibit.  Old metal and glass photographs bring about a sense of curiosity in the viewer and the richness of the medium  imbibing the work with an aura that digital images could never capture.  I wish I could share the actual picture, but a digital photograph will have to do for now.

Eric Robinson, Untitled Portrait, 2010

-rik lee

One Response to “reflected on glass”


  1. 19th c. Technology 21st c. Subject Matter: Artisanal Photographer Eric Robinson to shoot SF Leather « The Gay Highwaymen - July 23, 2010

    […] the festivities associated with the Dore (Up Your) Alley street fair. Read more about Eric at the HomoGenii site. The photos in the slide show below were taken during a shoot in April, 2010 in Carbondale, […]

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