Tim Ingmire 5×4 Tintypes
As you may already be aware, the Mask Series stopped accepting new participants (at least temporarily) when the number of photographers taking part reached a whopping one-hundred and fifty. In the interests of fairness, however, the man behind the Mask, Shane Balkowitsch, then opened a list of possible alternates. The images you see here, have been taken by one such alternate, Tim Ingmire, from the UK, who managed to get his hands on a Mask from the series while he was attending the UK Collodion Weekend which was held in Scotland in August.
Obviously, the official Mask site needs to be official and do things by the book, so it is completely fair to everyone. But here on the blog, we are happy to cut corners and put work up in the wrong order if it means getting our hands on great material to share with you. (Call us self-serving if you like….) So technically, while Tim’s ‘real’ turn might not be for another year or so, depending on whether anyone drops out in the meantime, we are delighted to show you, not only the three plates he made for the series, but also to bring you the following post he wrote about his experience for the blog. Over to you, Tim!
The Gas Mask; like most functional masks is designed to protect its wearer from a toxic environment, in this case an environment laden with harmful gasses – from the truly unpleasant such as the pepper gasses which civil forces may use to quell unruly citizens campaigning for a green park or the truly deadly: Hydrogen Cyanide, hideous tool of the SS extermination camps, or Sarin which has hit the headlines again in a most tragic way in Damascus.
The Gas Mask must provide a tight seal to prevent any unwitting seepage of the unpleasant, or the deadly. Any failure of this seal renders the mask useless. Such a seal is known as a Hermetic Seal; named after Hermes Trismegistus – the patron of Alchemists – and the ancient Greek name of the Egyptian god Thoth, the god of wisdom, learning and literature – and thus a suitable patron for Wet Platers? Trismegistus literally means thrice great and came about through his praise of the trinity, the combination into a great Divine unity.
The Gas Mask in this Series is also linked to the Greek god Hermes; flying around the world it is both message and servant to the many wet plate photographers who themselves create many new messages with it – a message within a message. Within these images we see the mask play many roles just as Hermes himself had many roles – servant, we already know, but to this we must add trickster, joker, thief, god of travel, inventor, sacrifices and good luck to name a few. In all of these roles we see The Mask or the wet plate photographer, sometimes both. It should also be noted that Hermes was seen as one of the earlier, thus primitive, of the gods just as Wet Plate is an earlier, more primitive form of photography.
In this series, “Witness to a Death”, we see a triptych (a nod to Hermes Trismegistus – and his love of the trinity), with The Mask playing one of the lesser known, yet most important and solemn, roles of Hermes – that of Psychopompos, the guide that leads souls to the underworld. In each of the plates, The Mask is present at the passing of each of the individuals and is thus witness to their deaths. Given the mask is still present in the frame one can assume that the Mask is waiting to fulfil its role of Pschopompos and that the individuals portrayed are maybe still to “breathe their last”, still to “shake off their mortal coils”.
In each plate we do know not know the cause of death and are not given any clues so that we may deduce it. The Mask plays a bit-part in the first 2 images; it is indistinct, unclear, out-of-focus. It plays a passive role and is clearly not the subject whereas the bodies are distinct, clear and in focus – these are the subjects.
In the third plate however we see something entirely different. In this case the individual is unclear and indistinct and the The Mask seems to play a far more active role. It is literally and figuratively central to the image – stark, clear, standing in contrast to its background. It looks the viewer square in the eye (in the other plates, The Mask is offset, as if looking at the bodies through the corner of the eyes) and it conveys a wholly different tone: Defiant? Has the mask in this event stolen a life? Accusatory? Has the viewer contributed to a death by looking? We cannot know.
Throughout these images the mask represents Hermes, the tryptich itself represent Hermes, the Mask Series represents Hermes and by being inventive alchemists and being messengers, the contributing Wet Plate photographers themselves represent Hermes. With Mask Series now closed to new contributors – it is itself sealed. Hermetically? Only the gods know that.