In 1995, before I was hired to teach in the conservation department, my wife and I originally came to Eastman House to teach workshops. Back then, we brought a car load of equipment from home—cameras, studio stands, and other specialized photographic equipment—every time we held a workshop. Now, twenty years later, my full-time job at Eastman House is once again teaching public workshops in historic photographic processes . . . and, I’m still bringing equipment from home.
The technology collection at the museum holds more than eight thousand cameras. But as Todd Gustavson, curator of the technology collection, tells me, once an object is officially accessioned into the collection, it becomes an artifact available for study—not for actual use. It’s understandable. Damage to equipment is expected when a piece is handled by many or exposed to corrosive chemicals, particularly the wet collodion process used to make tintypes and ambrotypes.
In the past few years, I’ve been scrounging for original equipment for the workshop program so that eventually we’ll be fully equipped without the need for me to loan pieces to the museum. We run our workshop program without a budget for equipment, and the supplies are funded by an additional fee paid by the participants. A few months ago, I decided it was time to get an 8×10” studio camera for the program, and I used social media to get it.
I made an appeal to our friends. We host the Eastman House Historic Processes Education group page on Facebook with more than 2,800 subscribed friends. In less than a day I had two people willing to donate the type of camera we needed. One was in New Jersey and the other was in Ohio. The Ohio camera, owned by Jeannette Palsa, also had the original studio stand—both in need of restoration, but solid. Jeannette had taken an ambrotype workshop from us years ago and uses the process in her fine art photography.
On a Friday in April, my assistant, Nick Brandreth and I drove the four hours to the Akron area to retrieve the camera and stand. When we arrived, Jeannette’s friend Bob Herbst was also there with a second camera donation. Jeannette was kind enough to send us off with box lunches and we arrived back in Rochester with two cameras, a studio stand, and a speeding ticket from an Ohio speed trap.
That weekend, I disassembled the studio stand, made the necessary repairs, refinished the wood and iron castings, and had it ready for use by Tuesday of the next week. The better camera of the two, an 8×10″ Century 10A Studio Camera donated by Bob was chosen for use since the bellows were still in usable condition and it only need some minor repairs. I made a lens board for this camera and attached a large brass portrait lens from my personal collection so that we could use it right away. Eventually we’ll be looking for a replacement lens and new bellows to be made, but the camera was put to use immediately in a tintype workshop less than a week after bringing it back to the museum. It’s a great piece of history reborn.
The workshop program is always looking for donations of equipment, from laboratory glass, to vintage photographic apparatus. Contact Mark Osterman at email@example.com if you think you can help.