Maryland Heights on Ambrotype

Used with permission, © Michelle Barkdoll

Harpers Ferry from Maryland Heights

It’s no secret that my favorite historic home away from home is Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. To me it’s one of the most interesting spots of the Civil War and I’ve met some outstanding people that live, work and teach in Lower Town. I’ve shot numerous plates around Harpers Ferry for personal use, demonstrated the technique to the masses and in October will be teaching a two day Living History Workshop on Wet Plate through the Park.

Though, high above Harpers Ferry was the Holy Grail of vantage points. At the end of a 4.5 mile hike up 1600 feet of elevation was a beautiful view down on Harpers Ferry. I wanted to make that hike.. With 70lbs of wet plate gear.


Portable Darkroom

Portable Darkroom

Seventy pounds of gear includes the portable darkroom, my backpack darkroom is made from collapsible PVC with a lightproof covering. Glass plates, all of the chemicals necessary, plenty of water, tripod and camera. Add to that lunch, water to drink, camp chairs and a blanket to place the darkbox on the ground. We parked at the trail head and geared up. It was shortly after 8am and we had a two hour hike ahead of us. It was a grueling two hours with the extra gear. We took plenty of breaks and finally made it to the top close to 11.

Exposing the plate

Exposing the plate

My first pour was a bust, the wind was drying the collodion really quickly. Later pours needed to be done inside the darkroom. I pulled another plate, cleaned it off and poured. Sensitized, placed into my plate holder and taken to my camera to expose..

5x7 and Harpers Ferry

5×7 and Harpers Ferry

Back in the dark the plate was developed and fixed.

At the top of the trail we were greeted by extremely heavy winds and cold temperatures. Worried that we might not be able to make plates at all, we waited it out. The wind eventually died down a bit and the sun decided to send us some warmth. It was getting late.

Around 12:30 I decided it was now or never. The winds were still mild and I found a ledge where I could set up my darkroom to be shielded by the wind and without being in the way of the very large number of other hikers at the location with us.  I made two plates this way, then clouds rolled in. We ate lunch, dumped the rest of our plate water and started back down. Reached the car at around 3:30pm & called it a day.

And two plates was more than enough, how many times can you shoot from one single vantage point anyway?

Here’s one of the plates made that day. Yes, it’s reversed – all images through a lens are reversed and upside down. It makes it interesting to recompose the shot in the camera.

Harpers Ferry from Maryland Heights Ambrotype

Harpers Ferry from Maryland Heights Half Plate Ambrotype


Images not shot on glass plate shot by Michelle Barkdoll and used with permission.

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