Page last updated at 11:29 GMT, Monday, 7 December 2009

A Gwynedd photographer works with Victorian techniques

Welsh burlesque photoshoot
Models have to hold the pose as the picture is taken

A Gwynedd-based artist is developing his passion for Victorian era black and white photography.

After initial experiments with more up-to-date technology, Richard Cynan Jones, is using technology developed by photographers in the 1850s.

Based at Mynydd Llandygai, near Bangor, the artist is concentrating on character portraits, lugging his large box camera, and on-site developing equipment with him.

He acknowledges that not everyone wants him to take their pictures as some of the shots can be less than flattering, but says part of the charm for him is the "warts and all" effect.

"It takes a brave individual to commission a portrait," he said.

You can't see something and say 'I'll take a picture of that', you have to think about it
Richard Cynan Jones

In Victorian times technology which we now take for granted - such as picture enlargement - was not available and picture negatives were taken in the size of the finished photograph.


"You can't see something and say 'I'll take a picture of that', you have to think about it.

"The whole thing takes longer. You can only estimate the exposure after taking a 'dummy' plate, and depending on the chemicals it can take 10 to 15 minutes to develop each plate."

Richard Cynan Jones prepares to take a photograph
The whole process is a "passion" for Richard Cynan Jones

The actual shot can be taken as a negative (for lots of prints of the same thing), or it can be taken as a positive, which, when it is placed on a black background produces a single one-off shot.

As the process only recognises blue and ultraviolet, skin tones, can come out darker.

"So the grubby looking Victorians were just ruddy cheeked," he said.

There's no room for movement either, as the subject matter has to stay still for between two and 30 seconds.

"I use a posing stand, I don't clamp them to it, it's a rest to remind them to keep their heads still," he added.

As the chemicals used in the developing process are also potentially dangerous there is also the need to keep the photographer, and the environment, safe.

Despite this however, and the expense involved to buy the reproduction cameras and original lenses which give the slightly "magical" effect to the outside edges of the images, Mr Jones said he is determined to carry on and learn more.

His ambition is to take photographs using some of the earliest processes.

"My end goal would be to re-create the Daguerreotype photos (where the image is exposed directly onto a mirror-polished surface)," he said.

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