Some Assembly Required: S. Gayle Stevens & Judy Sherrod

This series focuses on those who take the making of pictures a step or two further, creating their own photographic tools.

Nocturne #7 , from the homemade 20x20 pinhole camera.

Nocturne #7, from the homemade 20x20 pinhole camera.

S. Gayle Stevens & Judy Sherrod

In August, 2011 photographers S. Gayle Stevens and Judy Sherrod found themselves on the same Gulf beach at the same time. Stevens, who primarily works in wet plate collodion, was in Pass Christian, MS and Sherrod, who expertly constructs her own cameras, was in Bay St. Louis, MS. This serendipitous meeting prompted a collaborative experiment: to produce an 11x14 wet plate collodion tintype using one of Sherrod’s cameras.

Mathematically speaking, the odds were against them. Using an emulsion ISO of approximately 1 and putting it into a camera with an aperture of roughly f/300, the exposure would be so lengthy that the emulsion would dry before an image was rendered.

Using only plywood and rubber bands to construct the camera, Sherrod and Stevens pursued this experiment and were successful on the first try. The resulting 11x14 tintype made the duo the first to produce large-scale wet plate collodion tintypes using a handmade pinhole camera. They were pleasantly surprised by the silky image rendered by the collodion. Following their first success, they decided to try for a larger size.

Sherrod encountered two engineering problems in the initial construction of the camera. First, how to keep an aluminum plate steady as well as wet in a large box in the heat. Second, deciding what focal length to use—too narrow would cause distortion and too deep would risk prematurely dried plates. With some luck, the design worked and the plates remained steady and wet.

With this camera, Stevens and Sherrod have produced a beautiful portfolio of forty-nine 20x20 plates entitled Nocturnes

20x20 wet plate collodion pinhole camera in the field.

20x20 wet plate collodion pinhole camera in the field.

View more of the Nocturnes on the artists' blog

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