The Countess

The mystery gift turned out to be this delightful pocket-size, sixteenth-plate Countess camera complete with four plate holders and a leather case.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I recently attended a dry plate workshop at Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow. Over two days along with James, Pete and Oonagh I learned all about cutting, preparing and coating glass plates for use in large format cameras. We photographed each other using the plates we had prepared and then developed the images.

As the plates had to be washed and dried over a period of time we were unable to take them home with us but in due course they were posted out and as I have a suitable scanner Oonagh sent hers to me for scanning in return for which she sent me a ‘mystery gift’.

The mystery gift turned out to be this delightful pocket-size, sixteenth-plate Countess camera complete with four plate holders and a leather case.

The lens was a bit mucky and a couple of screws were loose but I was easily able so deal with the necessary cleaning and tightening. The aperture, shutter settings and the shutter itself all worked fine and all I needed to do was check for light leaks in the bellows. The plate holders were all showing signs of age (patination or rust, take your pick!) but I slid one open slightly to find a glass plate still within it. I opened the other three in the dark to find two more plates which I attempted to develop but there was no image on either.

Not having a source of 1mm thick glass (or 1/16″ as this is a pre-metric camera) I successfully tried to load a piece of Harman Direct Positive paper cut down from stock I keep for my pinhole work and took the camera out to make an exposure.

The direct positive paper had been flashed and I know from experience to rate it at ISO 3. From an incident light meter reading for an aperture of f/32 which gave an exposure time of 15 seconds I manually counted down an exposure of 20 seconds. What’s a couple of seconds, especially when counting them out?

I like the result and no obvious light leaks!20160521_001

I have a long-term pinhole project on the go using home-made cameras that I load with quarter of a 5×4 sheet of direct positive paper, just a fraction larger than the Countess’ plate size. I might just incorporate the Countess in the project for images that want a less wide-angle view that the pinholes give.

I love these small images. They draw the viewer in and a relationship is formed in the intimacy of the act of looking more closely.

Thank you, Oonagh for such a wonderful gift.

Author: Donald Tainsh

A lifelong explorer of photography

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