In the latest episode of ‘Darkroom Magic,’the George Eastman Museum’s historic photographic process specialist, Nick Brandreth, teaches viewers how to make a 35mm daguerreotype at home without the use of dangerous or expensive chemicals.
The daguerreotype gets its namesake from its creator, Louis Daguerre. The daguerreotype was introduced to the masses in 1839, becoming the first commercially viable photographic process. Although it fell out of favor about a decade later, the process has distinct characteristics that made it the process of choice for some specialists throughout the 20th century.
|Nick Brandreth with some of his 35mm daguerreotypes|
As Brandreth says, the at-home daguerreotype process is quite simple. In addition to a 35mm camera, you need a silver plate, or in his case, a piece of copper with silver plating. Orange or red glass is required in lieu of using mercury, which is part of the traditional daguerreotype process. You need iodine fuming materials and a glass vessel. Additionally, polishing materials are required to give your silver plate a mirror-like finish. The full ingredients are shown in the video below.
After you have gathered your materials, you must first buff and polish the silver plate. The first step requires a buff, olive oil, and rottenstone compound. This step removes any big scratches. Be sure to wash the plate with soap and water in between steps. The next stage is to polish the plate using lampblack, bringing the plate to a mirrored finish.
|You’ll need a variety of materials to do this project, but they’re all safe, unlike the mercury used in the traditional daguerreotype process.|
With the polished plate ready, the next stage is fuming. Combining silica gel beads and pure elemental iodine in a glass, you create a fuming material and place the polished plate above it, creating a photosensitive surface. The surface is sensitive to ultraviolet, violet and blue light, so you’ll want to expose it with natural light or a suitable artificial light source.
|Orange or red glass is used to develop the plate. It takes between 30 and 45 minutes to fully develop the plate. It will then require fixing and a finishing stage.|
The plate is now ready to be exposed. Place it inside your 35mm camera and the camera’s pressure plate should keep it stable. After exposure, it’s time for the ‘magic to happen,’ as Brandreth says. Place your exposed plate under a piece of red or orange glass and hit it with sunlight or a strong work light. You can watch the plate develop over the next 30 to 40 minutes. After this, give it a smooth, consistent fix and then wash the plate. To watch the finishing stage, be sure to watch the video above, as it requires a few steps.
If you’re interested in the science and art of photography, you can learn more about workshops at the George Eastman Museum’s website. Many more interesting videos can be viewed on its YouTube channel.