These portraits were published in our weekly photo column. The text I've copied below accompanied the pictures.
On Saturday, September 4th, I had the assignment of taking pictures of the Civil War battle reenactment at Point Mallard Park. Since my coworker Gary Cosby Jr. had already covered the event extensively (and very well, as usual) the previous day, I thought of doing something different that wasn’t necessarily focused on the battle itself. And so, the night before, I came up with this idea of doing a series of old-looking portraits using a lensbaby.
Lensbabies are small, compact lenses mounted inside flexible ridged rubber tubes, much like vacuum cleaner hoses. The front standard can be manipulated off axis to move the sharpest area of focus (called the "sweet spot") to almost anywhere in the frame. Therefore the important part of the subject can be rendered fairly sharp with everything else out of focus, even if it is the same distance from the camera.
I did take a couple of pictures of the battle, but this only confirmed that I should go with my plan, because the light was terrible: the bright, high summer sun at 2 p.m. kept all the actors’ faces in the most absolute darkness, and whenever I tried to change my angle in order to get a better light, the parking lot and baseball fields appeared in the background, which obviously didn’t fit in a Civil War scene.
My big discovery that day was Wendell R. Decker (in the first picture above). This photographer from Bowling Green, Ky., takes vintage pictures with a "sliding box" camera from the 1850s (on his right in the picture). The camera hasn't been modified and Decker uses the same technique that was used during the Civil War. He makes his own tintypes or ferrotypes (a direct positive on a sheet of iron metal) and ambrotypes (on glass sheets). He travels with assistant Suzy McGill across the country, from one Civil War reenactment to the next, taking pictures of both re-enactors and the public. I got so excited listening to him, learning about his work and the way that old camera works that I almost forgot that the battle had begun…
Like the lensbaby, old portrait lenses of days of yore frequently had a lot of spherical aberration, which gives the effect of concentrating your attention to the in-focus area (the "sweet spot). And this is why I thought I could get a more "old photography" look if I used one of them.
And this I promise: my next post, whatever it is, won't be about portraits...