In the late 19th Century an unorganized crowd of wet plate collodion tintype makers packed up their darkrooms and took to the road. Tintypes were both durable and inexpensive and for the first time in history, photography left the confines of the studio and portraits were available to nearly anyone interested. Lately, tintypes have seen a huge surge of interest. And there are (again) hundreds of people using the process in the field.
A while back, I took a weekend wet plate collodion workshop in Rochester, NY with Mark and France Scully Osterman. At the workshop, we discussed my interest in fieldwork and working beyond the studio walls. The process is called wet plate, because the entire picture-making endeavor takes place while the plate is still wet with chemicals. This means that if you want to photograph landscapes, you must take an entire darkroom with you! Many have invented interesting solutions for mobile darkrooms, ranging from a repurposed ambulance to ice fishing tents. France suggested I consider their preferred solution: a simple cardboard box.
A cardboard box is simple, easy to transport, light- weight and very inexpensive. She (France) told me that when they travel internationally they would often pack a few basics (fabric for a light shroud and some plastic for a liner) and scavenge a suitable box on the road.
I began to prowl around dumpsters behind appliance stores. I didn’t have much luck so I decided to buy a wardrobe box from the UPS store. Not surprisingly, shortly after my purchase I spotted a few large microwave boxes sitting idly in the trash!
A box with a “double wall” thickness will provide a very solid and rigid structure that is adequately light proof. One of the many great things about using cardboard is that with just a few quick cuts and some tape it’s easy to alter one to fit your requirements.
Before beginning, you might measure the cargo area of your vehicle to see what size will work best for you. The bigger the better, unless it doesn’t fit into your car!