DAG you!

How to become a Daguerreotypist?

While Ajit has been making some pinhole cameras with bottle caps and wooden boxes, Shreyasi is busy sensitizing paper to make Albumen prints, and we all are astonished as Chandana alters her process while she is trying to achieve ‘Kirlian Photography’. And I have proposed to learn the Daguerreotype process during this residency period.

P Madhavan shared with us a practical guide that he has built to produce Daguerreotypes using the Becquerel method of development, titled Daguerreotype MADHAVAN STYLE- How to become a Daguerreotypist? (PS- This document is Copyleft).

Copper Plate before buffing.

Just the idea of how a copper plate transforms itself through the process, boggles me! Firstly, into a mirror by being silver-plated and later heated and buffed. Then the surface changes colour as we make it light-sensitive while exposing it to iodine.  We are presently using a 4”x 5” plate, this is placed in the (large format) camera, and we are ready to go! Madhavan asks me, “Vidisha what is the first Dag you want to make?” I looked at this structure, around 4 ½ feet tall, which had been covered with black plastic, and everybody questioned my absurdity,  “You want to waste a Rs. 2000 plate on that?” To please the others and understanding the position of light I chose to photograph a stack of dead branches. 😛

Making a 25 minute exposure

Developing the plate.

After 25 minute exposure we took out the plate and exposed it to sun under Amber Colored paper, to control only UV light meeting the surface of the plate. We waited for a long time, had tea and other things. But there was NO IMAGE! :/

I guess there wasn’t enough iodine on the sheet, as the amount of time one exposes the plate to iodine varies with climate/ temperature, so our calculations need to be localized. Madhavan said, “let’s buff it again!” we rubbed the plate with a tissue paper, heated it and tried buffing it. But the mirror polish was not appearing and there was still some iodine on the surface. We had missed a step of washing our sheet in Sodium Thiosulphate to remove silver iodide from the plate, which we did now. But by the time we started heating it, our gas pipe was leaking, the buffer gave way (short- circuit) and it had become too dark to be able to complete the entire process.

Now Madhavan is off to Bangalore to bring back new plates for this process.

Copper plate with iodine coating.


About Vidisha Fadescha

Vidisha Saini likes to queer utopia, gender, colonialism and history. Vidisha works with alter-egos (Fadescha), satire, tourism, memory, hyper-text and other performative mediums. She’s social as well as anti-social. Saini's recent performances and exhibitions include 'Building On Ruins', Cirrus Gallery, Los Angeles, CA, Nov- Feb '14; 'A Bomb With Ribbon Around It', Queens Museum, New York, Dec-Jan'14; 'Indian-American Bread', Center Artists Lab, Santa Fe, NM, Oct'13; 'Cinderella Ashtray', Concord Space, Los Angeles, CA, October'13. Saini holds a MFA in Photography & Media, and Integrated Media from California Institute of the Arts. vidisha.saini@gmail.com website: www.vidisha-fadescha.com
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