Artist and photography tutor in the Stills Centre for Photography (Edinburgh Scotland) Brittonie Fletcher tells how making calotypes is helping her to learn more about processes and time.
“I wanted to learn historic and chemical photography”
My decision to try calotypes came about the same time as I learned about them. I very much admired some of the work by one of our fellow calotypists and wanted to learn everything about historic and chemical photography. It took me many years to eventually work through various processes to trying out calotype from various printed ‘recipes’ I’d come across.
“First calotype was nearly a complete disaster”
Well, my first calotype attempt was made in 2012 and was nearly a complete disaster. I haven’t quite worked out what I was doing and was very sloppy in technique and omitted backing to keep the materials wet. I was trying it out in my backyard – I do a lot of tests with my backyard – usually leaves… They’re an attractive visual than tends to hold still and be readily available. I also like gardening so it’s a happy place… and there’s the tradition of back yard images and nature.
“It was a way to get myself prepared for direct positives”
I put calotype down for a while due to other photographic pursuits. I picked it back up because there was spare time and I wanted a challenge. It was actually a way to get myself prepared for direct positives, which were an attractive thought. I have since made a few of those.
“All for my own personal interest in learning the process and materials not really exhibition or publishing. I love art making but I enjoy the making of historic photography, seeing how it relates to others I work with, getting a better understanding of chemistry”.Brittonie Fletcher
For making calotypes I’ve started with the recipes and instructions listed in the James’ book. I find it’s an excellent starter for most processes and once I’ve managed to get really good at that one I think I’d probably like to work with one of the dry processes. I don’t tend to have the patience for wet – which is why it feels good to make myself learn it.
“My first ever camera…”
Pretty sure it was a reward for saving the barcodes off cereal boxes and put a little teenage mutant ninja turtle in the corner of each picture. But my first LF camera was a Bush Pressman which I bought in 2006 and had previously been borrowing my best friend’s of the same make. I currently use a Shen Hao 4×5 most.
“My mom and I have always collected random old photos from thrift stores”
Who formed my artistic taste? My mom and I have always collected random old photos from thrift stores and charity shops or the cheap box of an antique shop… So I would have to credit that family interest in the vernacular as a starting point. When I was about 22 I came across 3 artists within a 6 month period which seemed to make it obvious this was something I wanted to do: I saw Adam Fuss’ exhibition at the MFA Boston, a few months later was given Sally Man’s “What Remains” as a birthday gift and then saw Dan Estabrooke’s class making interesting work and went to his artist talk while at Penland School of Crafts. A few years later I went to MassArt for undergrad and got a hold of the Christopher James book and looked at lots of stuff online- alternativephotography.com, DPUG and flickr.
“I photograph mainly outdoors still objects plants, bicycles, statues, buildings”
I photograph a lot of different things. As it’s a learning hobbyist interest I haven’t yet worked on a solid defined project with the process. Mainly outdoors still objects plants, bicycles, statues, buildings. I’ve photographed one person but he did lose patience as my subject after few tries.
“My darkroom is big enough to tetris into whatever shape I need…”
I have access to several professional darkrooms where I teach but I also have a small LoFi setup in my flat. It is big enough to tetris into whatever shape or function I need, it equipped with light boxes, an enlarger, tables and tanks…
“According to some of my students I am in fact “a big nerd”
I still have a lot to learn and that patience is not something that comes naturally to me (or organization) and that historic photographic processes have improved me and helped me work to have more of both. And, according to some of my students I am in fact “a big nerd”.
Interview by Asia Santambrogio