First images of the year – Caerlaverock Castle

Caerlaverock Castle, Dumfriesshire

Caerlaverock Castle, January 2012

It’s the start of a new year, and what better way to celebrate than to pack my cameras, chemicals and supplies into my car and spend a day making some images on glass. It’s something I had been wanting to do for couple of weeks now,  however the Scottish weather had other plans, and December was a month which set new records for severe weather warnings. Given that making images with wet plate requires UV light (at its lowest in the winter) and negligible winds,  things didn’t look too promising.

I’ve always slightly obsessed with weather forecasts, and noticed that the 2nd of January had a few hours of minimal wind, and while not sunny it was at least not raining!  Not ideal conditions by any stretch of the imagination, but I decided to make the journey over to the magnificent ruins of Caerlaverock Castle near my home and set up for the day.  The castle has a long and turbulent history, with its defensive walls and towers forming a triangle which is surrounded on all sides by a wide moat. You can read an excellent history of the castle with many images here.

Unpacking the car in the cold conditions, I tried to set up in one of the defensive ditches in front of the castle, but found myself sinking slowly into a bog and opted instead to set up behind the only shelter available – a holly bush.  Having set up the dark-box  and sorted out the chemicals, I slung the heavy tripod over my shoulder and made my way across the bog to my subject.

Caerlaverock Castle, Dumfriesshire

The dark-box, sheltered behind a tree.

The castle loomed above  me, and I decided to set up in a partially sheltered clearing to the west, with a view which echoed a Victorian glass plate held by the Museum I work for.  What followed was an intensive day of physical labour as I ran to and from the location dark slide in hand, working to develop and pour images in increasingly rough conditions. As the day went on the wind speed increased, and it became impossible to pour plates outside, as the collodion was being blown everywhere except for on the glass! Conditions in the dark box also became challenging as well as one of my two red lights decided it had had enough for the day, which left me to develop plates largely in the dark.

window detail, Caerlaverock Castle

Window detail, Caerlaverock Castle

It was a nightmare at times, and often when making images the wind would suddenly gust up and move the camera when a plate was being exposed.  I must admit though that I had great fun, even managing to spend time with a few visitors who where intrigued by the process and wanted to learn more. More importantly working in such tough conditions is great practice for improving my skills for working in the landscapes of Scotland, as well as for my upcoming  residency on the rather windy Atlantic coast of Ireland!

I’ve had the chance to scan a few images on my rather basic Epson, but they should give you an impression to what the plates look like. I’ve included two images – one which is a result of the wind playing havoc with the tripod, and the other which was developed in the dark! These images may not be perfect, but I think it’s important to share the ‘sketches’ which go into making the final images and help me develop my craft.

The Double Exposure

Caerlaverock Castle, double exposure

Caerlaverock Castle, double exposure (click to view larger)

This image of the castle is one of several made from this angle while strong winds shook the trees around me. The exposure time was about 40 seconds,however after about thirty seconds a strong gust of wind caught the camera, shifting it slightly and changing the focus.  I decided to go ahead and develop the plate rather than binning it to see how it turned out, and the result was this rather odd double exposure. While the image is a ‘mistake’, it’s one that I quite like, and I feel that the spectral outlines of walls and towers reflect the history of the castle, which has been rebuilt and destroyed many times over its history.

The ‘Classic’ View

Caerlaverock Castle, January 2012

Caerlaverock Castle, January 2012

This image of the castle is the same as the one at the top of the page with several key differences. I’m constantly debating whether I should follow in the footsteps of Victorian photographers such as Francis Frith or John Thompson, who after making a plate took the time to ink out the skies of the their images, as well as removing other chemical distractions. As you can see I’ve done a bit of that here.  Many contemporary wet-platers prefer to keep the sky in but I’m not sure – what do you think? Please Take a moment to compare both images. Is it better to see clean  ‘finished’ images, or do you like to see the hand of the maker, chemical spills and all?

Thanks for taking the time to read this blog, and please leave any comments below.  Also a special thank you to Historic Scotland who have allowed me access to this site.

You can visit the castle by clicking here!


About Alex Boyd

A photographer, curator, and mountain obsessive.

One response to “First images of the year – Caerlaverock Castle”

  1. James Dyas Davidson says :

    It’s all about the journey at the moment Alex, it seems to me. You’re sharing your work as you learn and all the shots are valid and interesting in themselves. They are not perfect but are perfectly marvelous for they are the result of you following your current love with all the ups and downs that go with the collodion process. Keep sharing I say.

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