An Interview with Bailey-Denton Photography

We were recently fortunate to participate in a photo session in the Garden Grove studios of Bailey-Denton Photographers. Valorie and James gladly shared their expertise and artistic talent with us and the experience was truly remarkable. Sage and Savant would definitely encourage you to make the trek to Orange County California and have your portrait taken by these amazing artists.

After the photo session, James and Valorie were kind enough to answer our burning questions.

Q: Who exactly is Bailey-Denton Photography which one of you is the photographer and which one is the chemist?

BDP: Bailey-Denton photography is the comprised of equal parts Valorie Bailey-Denton, the photographer and James Denton, the collodionist/chemist

Q: What is postmortem photography?

Bailey-Denton PhotographyBDP: Postmortem photography is simply a portrait of a person (soon) after their death. A person living during the 19th century would probably only be photographed once or twice in their life and if not, then it would probably be done right after they died as a memorium.

Q: Is it true the Victorians never smiled in photographs? Why or Why not?

BDP: It was unusual but it did happen. At the outset of photography people rarely smiled. Mostly this was for three reasons. 1: Dentistry and dental hygiene were still somewhat rudimentary at the time. 2: They were emulating the earlier portraiture done in paintings, as this was their only frame of reference. 3: Exposure times could be long and holding a facial expression for more than a few seconds is difficult and uncomfortable.

Q: What is the strangest thing you have ever photographed?

BDP: A manure spreader. Additionally, I hand-tinted it.

Q: What types of events do you trek to with your camera?

BDP: The three primary types of events we set-up at Civil War re-enactments, Steampunk Events, and Victorian Events. We have also done private events as well.

Q: What exactly is wet-plate photography?

BDP: It is a method of photography where a light-sensitive emulsion creates a direct-positive image on a rigid substrate when exposed to UV light. Essentially, using chemicals, I create photographic film on either glass or a metal plate.

Q: Are the chemicals used in wet-plate photography dangerous?

Bailey-Denton PhotographyBDP: Yes. But just like household cleaners or automotive fluids, when treated with respect and using the proper protective gear they can be safely used, stored and disposed of.

Q: How does the picture develop on the plate?

An Interview with Bailey-Denton Photography The process is remarkable similar to that of film development. After the exposure (while in a safe-light environment) the plate is developed in developer until you see the highlights of the image. This roughly takes 15-20 seconds. Rinse the plate thoroughly in water. Now the plate is safe to be in regular light, but is still a ghostly-blue negative and will fade soon. This when you put it in a bath of fixer. My preferred type is potassium cyanide. This chemical will “flip” the image from a negative to a positive and will ensure the image does not fade with additional exposure to light.

Q: I heard that the image you are viewing in the box camera is upside down; is that correct? Why is that?

BDP: That is true and can be a bit disorientating when you are not used to it. The lenses used work like the lenses in our eyes and flip the image upside-down. Our brains, however, flip it back.

Q: When did photography become common for everyday people?

BDP: Almost immediately. The 1st commercially viable type of photography that was invented was the Daguerreotype, Invented by Louis Type (lol). The process was discovered in 1835 and took a few years to perfect. In 1839 the French Academie of Sciences bought the patent from Daguerre and released it to the public (except to the English). AT that point you saw daguerreotype studios popping up in every town. Wet-Plate photography was invented by Frederick Scott Archer in 1851 as a way to create a way to make photographs reproducible using glass negatives and highly detailed. This method led the way to the tintype which was less expensive, easier to create and less dangerous than the daguerreotype.

Q: You have an awesome studio with a number of authentic details. I was really taken with your hand-painted backdrop. Can you tell me about that?

BDP: We really wanted to create an atmosphere in our studio in common with that of the 19th century photo parlors. The hand-painted background is one of those elements I saw in many of the tintypes I’ve seen. It was painted in China and shipped directly to us.

Q: The antique settee and posing chair are pretty awesome and you have a beautiful Victorian wash stand as well… has anyone wanted to pose for a Victorian boudoir photo or would I be the first?

Bailey-Denton PhotographyBDP: While we have not done any yet, our studio is well set-up for boudoir photography. Additionally, in today’s age of digital photography where an image can be reproduced an infinite amount of times and transmitted around the world, the tintypes or ambrotypes are one-off photos with no negatives. The customer is in total control of the image and unless requested, we do not make a digital image of any photos.

Q: You also had what looked like antique torture devices in the studio can you tell me what they are for?

BDP: We currently have two headrests. These were used for photography to help steady the customer’s natural sway and to keep the head in a fixed position to ensure it is focus. The lenses used at the time would be set to have a shallow depth of field. This means that the subject cannot move to far forward or back and stay in focus. The headrests were used by children and presidents alike. One misconception is that they were used to prop-up the dead. This was an uncommon usage. Usually the dead were positioned in a chair and since they tend not to move, did not require such accoutrements

Q: What special challenges do you face in outdoor photography?

BDP: Like most outdoor photographers, the challenges are standard, variable light, wind and weather. With the use of natural light, you need to take into account the sun’s angle. With wet-plate, you also have the additional challenges of estimating the UV light, the heat, and humidity. The UV light’s intensity can either lengthen or shorten your exposure time. The heat will not only dry your plates quicker, making you work faster but can change how your chemicals react. High heat forces us to keep some of them in a cooler with ice.

Q: Is it possible to take a wet-plate photo of a dog or a child or do they squirm too much?

BDP: It is and has been done. I’ve seen some adverts from photographers in the 19th century and a lot of them make it a selling point of their ability to photograph children and “nervous” people. Using natural light and needing a few seconds can make it a challenge, but we have very powerful flashes in our studio that make the exposure time nearly instantaneous.

Q: Which photograph are you most proud of and why?

BDP: This is almost like choosing a favorite child. The satisfaction we get when a customer is blown-away by what they see and has a grin from ear-to-ear is what we love. One example of this was from last year’s Civil War Days at the Huntington Beach Central Park. A group dressed as the 2nd Florida Infantry won the raffle to have their tintype done. After impressing us with how orderly they were in getting into position and following direction, the exposure was made and I developed it. With them crowded around us they watch it flip from the negative to a positive and hearing the gasps and exclamations really made my day. Nearly every one of the group posted it on their Facebook pages and people were saying how it looked like “the real thing”. I can think of no greater compliment.



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