I think I was about ten years old when my dad (a very keen amateur photographer) gave me my first camera. I don't remember a thing about the camera, but I remember the thrill of waiting for the film to be processed and returned to the chemist (which was usually where you dropped off and picked up your film in Sydney). Usually, my focus was wrong, or I cut off someone's head, but how exciting to get those processed pics.
I went on to work with 'plastic fantastic' cameras and became obsessed with lomography (off to Google you go). You can see some of my lomo photos on my photoblog (which I really should update). Here is one of my favourites - the Sydney Opera House, taken with my Superheadz Pink Dress 22mm (wide-angle lens) camera and Kodak Gold film.
So, it was no surprise to me when I became fascinated with the early years of photography and the use of wet and dry plates. Wet plate photography involved photographers dipping glass plates into an emulsion of silver bromide. They had about fifteen minutes to coat, expose and develop the plate. This meant lugging around a portal darkroom. I've researched some fascinating early photographers in New Zealand who drove a horse and buggy with the ability to erect heavy hoods or material around the buggy to serve as a darkroom.
Dry plates were introduced in 1871 and were pre-coated with a light-sensitive gelatin. Photographers could take the plates out into the field, carried in a wooden box or a bag with slots for the plates. The plates would then be developed back in the photographer's darkroom.
Naturally, Jack Collingwood, the main character in Ashgrove Park, had to be a photographer so I could have him use cameras from the WWI era, like the Vest Pocket Kodak (known as the 'soldier's camera'). I also had Jack develop dry plates used in a German-made Reisekamera - a wooden bellows view camera popular in the early 1900s. What Jack found when he developed the glass plate negatives is one of the mysteries in Ashgrove Park!
All the photography research I did for Ashgrove Park piqued my interest in dry plate photography. Some modern photographers have 'rediscovered' wet and dry plates, which produce a sharp contrast of black and white and an almost dream-like quality. You can see dry plate photographs here. Something magical about them, wouldn't you agree?
Imagine the fun I'm having researching cameras of the 1920s because Jack will be taking 'specials' photos in his work with the New South Wales police. Catch up on what will be happening in my next novel, On Jacaranda Street, by reading my last post.