When Cannabis Meets History

by | Sep 7, 2016 | Budtender Feature

Industry. A simple word on its own. But when it’s combined with the word cannabis, things seem to get complicated. There’s a stigma associated with this particular industry, a stigma that we’re looking to banish. We’re hard-working, creative individuals with one end goal in mind: to make cannabis completely legal. One of our budtenders, Todd Miller, proves just that with his continuing photo series, Industry.

Art, history and cannabis fuse together in this unique portrait photo series. “The mugshot style alumi-types are a great juxtaposition that highlights normal people working in a grey area of national legality,” said Miller. These tin-type portraits are being displayed in a “murderers’ row” style. “When photography was first introduced, police stations would display photos of criminals that were wanted and notorious. Since this industry is still considered illegal in some states, it is a perfect subject matter for the historical medium used,” Miller adds.

Industry in Progress

‘History Is A Lie,’ Sort Of

This technology spans back to the 1850s, in the heart of the Civil War. If soldiers were lucky enough, they carried tin types of their families and loved ones. The sturdiness of these photographs, which were often tucked into the soldiers’ bibles, were able to brave the wear and tear of war. Most photos you see of Abe Lincoln or the battlefields of the Civil War were shot in this style.

Remember that infamous shot of Billy the Kid? That photo led a lot of people to believe that he was left handed. What people didn’t know was that the photo was actually a tintype photograph, which is technically a negative. If the photo was shot on a glass plate and then made into a print, the photo would have showed him as right handed. The joke lies in all of the movies and books written throughout history claiming that Billy the Kid was left handed when in fact he was right handed. Thus proving that ‘history is a lie.’

Photographers or Scientists?

The entire process takes about a half hour. It was in that time span that I watched Todd go from your average budtender to a photographing mad scientist of sorts. The “crazy process” as Todd describes it, begins with preparing the plate (the part that becomes the actual photograph). These plates can be glass or metal. In this case, the plates were metal creating a glossy black or brown finish. When preparing the plate, you go through a two-step process.

Todd Prepares the Plate

First you must “flow” collodion, which is similar to a glue, over the entire plate. This can be a tedious task and takes a few times to master. After the plate is covered with collodion, it enters the dark-room, or in Todd’s case a dark box where it soaks in a silver nitrate bath for three minutes.

This part of the process has to be done in a dark environment as the plate is now sensitive to the light. Silver is attracted to the collodion and forms crystals on the plate. When the silver is exposed to light those crystals get burned. This burning creates the highlights and shadows during the exposure. After three minutes, the plate is taken out of the bath and loaded into a film holder that is then directly loaded into the camera where the exposure is taken. The exposure can vary depending on how fast the lens is. In this particular case, the exposure is 11 seconds long. Which surprisingly seems like a life time when you’re told to hold still for 11 seconds.

Todd setting up the shot

After the exposure is taken the plate is still extremely light sensitive, and has to be processed in a dark room or dark box. Once inside the dark space the plate is taken out of the holder and developer is applied over it. By letting the developer sit on top of the plate for 45 seconds, an image starts to appear.

Todd looking at the box

To stop the development process, distilled water is poured over the plate. Next the plate is immersed into a bath of fixer. This step is the first time you get to see what the photo actually looks like. The plate sits in the fixer bath for four minutes. After the fixer bath, the plate gets a water rinse.

Photo in a fixer bath

The final step is a Sandarac Varnish. The plate is taken out of the water rinse and it dried over an alcohol flame. Once the plate is dried, the varnish is “flowed” in the same manner as the collodion. The plate is then again dried over the alcohol flame. This part can be extremely dangerous because the varnish is flammable and the plate needs to be heated just enough to cure the varnish and not combust it.

Flowing varnish on the plate

Before you know it, you have a wet-plate photograph made in the 21st century.

Finished photo

Want to Join the Project?

As mentioned earlier, this is an ongoing project open to anyone in the cannabis industry that has their MED Badge. If you or someone you know would be interested in being a part of this, please reach out to Todd Miller at todd.duane@gmail.com. Feel free to check out his website and Instagram as well.


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