Ferrotype 4.25 x 5.5″
John Coffer, USA
Although it might not be immediately obvious to the casual viewer, this image is a self-portrait, which was made in natural light, under conditions of potential moral hazard and infernal temptation to the model. For the man behind the ‘mask’ you see here is none other than the wet-plating phenomenon that is, John Coffer. In his own words, John is:
“A self taught, horse drawn, travelling wet-plate collodion portrait photographer, who started with wet-plate in 1982.”
As colourful as this may sound, it’s a description which leaves out quite a lot of fascinating detail. For instance, by 1982, John was already four years into his epic seven year tour, taking in thirty-six states, and covering more than 11,000 ‘wagon’ miles. Throughout, John travelled thanks to the good grace of his trusty steed ‘Brownie’ (presumably NOT named after the Kodak), who valiantly pulled the 19th century style darkroom wagon dubbed the “Photographic Van” as John criss-crossed the continent, plying his trade as an old time traveling portrait photographer.
Then, in 1985, the pair settled down on their own fifty acre farm in the heart of the beautiful “Finger Lakes” of up-state New York. It is from here that John has been running the incomparable ‘Camp Tintype’ which quickly established itself as a True North for wet-plates from all over the world.
Those who know John will tell you straight. He is no techno-junkie. To him, a ‘smart phone’ would most likely be one you can turn off so people don’t ring you up while you are performing feats of alchemy in the dark room. But then, neither can we really use the L-word with reference to John. After all, what true Luddite would set up such indispensable online resources as The Myth Buster Series? So, while it may a bit difficult to see with the gas mask and hood, it strikes us that perhaps John had his tongue ever-so-slightly in his cheek when he decided to suit up in full HazMat mode against the endemic dangers of digital photography.
What isn’t in any doubt, however, is that John’s plate is one in a long line of incredible plates, and all of us at the Mask Series are completely delighted that such an illustrious member of the global wet-plate fraternity wanted to take part in the series.
If you would like to visit Camp Tintype (and frankly, who in their right mind wouldn’t?!) then more information about this, together with other films about John and the wet-plate process, are available on johncoffer.com.
In the meantime, we leave you with this taster…