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The Penumbra Foundation

The Penumbra Foundation is a non-profit photographic arts and education organization devoted to offering a complete curriculum from the inception of photography in 1839 to the present digital age.

Story by Dave Krugman July 22nd, 2014

The tintype studio

On the first floor of the Penumbra Foundation, there is a studio where they employ the photographic technique of tintype. Tintype is a method of photography that was widely used in the 1800s, and although it is far less common now, it is still used to create stunning, one of a kind works. Below, Geoffery Berliner, Executive Director of the foundation, gets ready to take my portrait.

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Preparing plates

Each plate must be prepared with a special chemical emulsion. The plates are prepared just before being used, and are still wet when exposed to light.

“In the wet process, a collodion emulsion containing suspended silver halide crystals has to be formed on the plate just before it is exposed in the camera while still wet. Chemical treatment then reduce the crystals to microscopic particles of metallic silver in proportion to the intensity and duration of their exposure to light, resulting in a visible image.” -Wikipedia

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The Camera

This camera is an Original Anthony 4 Lens Multiple Wet Plate Camera mounted with a 4 Darlot multiple lens Petzval Portrait lens tubes. Camera and lenses are ca. 1860s.

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Develop and rinse

After being exposed, the plates are rushed into the darkroom, where they are developed, fixed, and rinsed.

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Watching the developing process

Watch this video I filmed of the developing and rinsing process- the moment where the negative reverses and forms the final positive image is worth waiting for!

The mugshot

Using the Original Anthony 4 Lens Multiple Wet Plate Camera Camera allows a method of exposing the same plate four times, to create a photo booth style image. I did my best to channel my inner Civil War soldier.

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The portrait

This portrait was Geoffrey’s first shot of me, and I loved it. It even was published in a recent Fortune article about Instagram.

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The scanned Plates

I had three plates made: below are the scanned, untouched files. The foundation will retouch out imperfections in the plates, but I asked for the originals because I think that the small flaws add tremendously to the final results.

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The camera doctor

In a camera filled room in the basement of the Penumbra Foundation, Frank Rubio repairs, restores, and fabricates cameras and equipment. Frank is an incredible craftsman, with a wide smile and a steady hand, and it was a pleasure to watch him at work.

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An unrivaled collection

In yet another stunning room at the foundation, cameras fill every shelf, and lenses fill every drawer. You can feel the weight of history amongst all this metal and glass. I was totally in awe as Geoffrey showed me treasure after treasure. Below are a few examples.

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The library

There is yet another deep collection of precious items at the Penumbra Foundation: a massive library of books about photography, dating back to the inception of the craft. I could spend weeks reading from this shelf alone, and I only wish I had the time.

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The best part

If photography is something that interests you, I would say that you will learn more from a visit to the Penumbra Foundation than you will anywhere else. Incredibly, the foundation offers free tours, where you can find out more about their efforts, their workshops, and even schedule a time to buy a tintype of yourself. See more on their website, and you can email erica@penumbrafoundation.org to set up a time to visit. I know I’ll be back soon!

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The Penumbra Foundation