The curious stack of wooden planks under the back left tire of Ken Miner’s van is telling.
The van is carefully parked on the steep slope of Wilhelmina Bouwsema-Raap’s Royal Oak driveway. Miner opens the back door to reveal a mobile darkroom complete with bottles of gun cotton and silver nitrate solutions, age-old chemicals used to prepare and process photographic film for a century-old camera.
Miner needs his darkroom balanced so he can give the plate glass a silver nitrate bath.
Bouwsema-Raap, clad in white beekeeping overalls, is the 18th subject to be photographed by Miner for his project, an upcoming book by the Island Farmers’ Alliance called Of Land and Sea: Portraits of Coastal Food Producers.
Miner is using his 1902-era Century View camera for all the shots, having visited Cortes, Sointula and Salt Spring islands, Bamfield, Mill Bay, East Sooke and three farms in Duncan, so far.
“Meeting the people has been amazing,” said Miner, a Colwood resident who did some farming growing up outside of Winnipeg. “Everyone’s been so welcoming and shared their produce or product.”
A member of IFA saw some of Miner’s wet plate collodion photos, also of a farm, at a Sooke food security event last year. It inspired IFA to apply for (and receive) a New Horizons grant to create the project.
“The project itself isn’t a fundraiser, however, the book that is published will be used as a fundraiser for the Island Farmers’ Alliance,” said IFA member Vanessa Goodall.
Bouwsema-Raap was referred to Miner by a friend and agreed to be a subject without really knowing much about it. She’s had bees for 15 years and sells honey from her driveway on West Saanich Road.
“I knew it was for a photo but I didn’t know it was going to be this kind of camera,” she said.
Miner originally started by doing black-and-white darkroom work in 1994 with a contemporary camera of the day. He became disillusioned with photography and to this day he rarely touches his digital camera. But with the vintage camera process, he’s found a way to do it regularly.
Inside the van, Miner is prepping an eight-by-10-inch glass plate with gun cotton, or nitrocellulose, a mixture once used in rifles (and also to dress the wounds of the same soldiers who employed said rifles).
When he appears from the darkroom, the plate is ready. Miner follows Bouwsema-Raap, clad in white overalls, along a path to where his 1902 Century View camera is stationed beside her beehives. Bouwsema-Raap takes her position among the hives and Miner affixes the glass plate and disappears under a hood.
“It’s a tricky operation but the process is fairly simple,” says Miner, who wears surgeon quality gloves while handling the plates. “Once you do it a few times you get the hang of it.”
After 40 minutes Miner has his first photo. It’s overexposed, so they do it again.
Bouwsema-Raap holds still, this time for six seconds instead of 15.
“There’s no meters, you take a photo and then you do it again.”
After an hour and 15 minutes the second photo plate is bathed and Miner is content.
Of Land and Sea will be available in 2016.