4.25″ x 5.25″ Tintype



Betsy Reed, United States


Betsy had the following to say about ‘Symbiosis’:

“When I signed up for “the Mask Series,” I knew pretty quickly what I wanted to do. I needed a kid and a plant. Luckily plants abound around our house, and our good friend, the owner of our local indie bookshop, agreed to let me borrow her three-and-a-half-year-old Jack. Through two shoots and four plates, Jack was a trooper. He turned it all into a game where he (the Space Elephant) had to sit very still in order to concentrate his mighty powers to control Baby Godzilla (the plant in the bell jar). The resulting image shows, or at least as I see it, that, ultimately, we get what we give. The earth gives us life, but it’s going to continue to sustain us only if we choose to live sustainably. If we are not careful we may be headed for a future filled with little kids in gas masks.”

Symbiosis is one of the many plates in the Mask Series for which we are lucky to have some ‘making of’ materials to share.  The shoot was attempted on two occasions, firstly, at Reading Rocks Books (which is owned by Jack the Space Elephant’s mom), and latterly at The Vacant Chair Photography’s own studio.  On the first occasion, fellow Masketeer Gerald Figal was on hand and made a short film of proceedings, which he has kindly allowed us to show here (unedited).


Space elephant 1Thankfully, there were also plenty of people on hand to help document the second shoot as well. By offering such a stark contrast to the final image, this full-colour digital images taken during the shoot help shine a light on the magic of the wet plate collodion process, highlighting just how pleasing the final results are.  Betsy used a megalight uv grow light on both shoots, which gave everything a blue hue.
Reeds Three’
Betsy is one of a trio of Reed family members who are taking place in the Mask Series.  The other two who make up the team are her parents, Sam and Mary Lou Reed, and collectively, they are known as The Vacant Chair Photography Studio.  As historic interpreters Betsy and her employees/parents Sam and Mary Lou (Maire) make the rounds of Civil War 150th events, 19th Century historic homes and sites, timelines, college photography classes, as well as national and state park sites, demonstrating and first-person interpreting the lives of Civil War era field tintypists/ambrotypists.. The family also has a modest studio at the family home from which they occasionally conduct wet plate workshops.

“My introduction to the wet plate collodion process happened by chance while on a family vacation a few years ago in Gettysburg, PA. I had my image made at a studio, and from that day forward, wet plate became a constant obsession for my parents and me. I shoot when I can, and spend a large chunk of the rest of my time studying nineteenth century photography. I firmly believe that there is no better experience than seeing a successful image come up in the fixer bath and no better process than wet plate.”


You can find out more about Betsy’s work at The Vacant Chair Studio’s website.

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