Photography is the perfect counterpart to road travel. On a mission that seems to blend aspects of Ken Kesey, Robert Frank and Matthew Brady, fine art photographer Anton Orlov is traveling across the United States in a school bus doing wet plate collodion photography. You might’ve seen his Kickstarter video in 2011 that involved retrofitting a school bus into a mobile darkroom nicknamed “The Photo Palace.”
Orlov’s came up with the idea to transform a 1978 Gillig school bus in an effort to educate the public about the value of analog photographic processes. Funding the renovation of the bus, however, wasn't easy. Despite his well-produced Kickstarter video, Orlov was coming up short on his financial goal so he sold some of his camera collection to make up the difference. Campaigns on Indiegogo helped with seed money and now that he's one the road, he creates tintype portraits to help pay for gas for the bus and as a thank you to families that host him. “I would love to offer those programs at no cost at all, but that will have to wait until I find a philanthropist who would like to foot the bill for this venture,” he said.
Anton left San Diego on June 9th and we caught up with him after visiting Portland, Maine. “The impetus for building the bus was to broaden general public's awareness of various historic photo methods by doing impromptu shows and demonstrations and to inspire photographers to use manual methods for making their art prints,” said Orlov.
On this trip, he is focusing on wet plate collodion, a tactile 19th Century process requiring the photographer to pour collodion onto glass or tin and use a large format camera and portable darkroom. “Every trip has a different focus (such as wet plate this time) and in general it's just a way for me to meet people involved in the art world, see the country, make new friends and of course make art as I go,” he said. While he is devoted to shooting collodion on this year’s journey, he has also worked with medium format film and Polaroid.
The route is unplanned with unexpected alterations wherever the road leads him. “I am keeping to route as undefined as possible,” he said. “This way the exploration of America is purely empirical and guided only by visual inspiration.” The road home, however, is more formal as he is planning to follow Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles with stops in Washington DC, Maryland and Buffalo. “There are Magic Lantern Shows, tintype experiences and college appearances planned already and I am working on more,” he said.
While digital cameras are not part of Orlov’s experience, he has benefitted from new technologies like social media as a means of trip planning and promotion. “I use them (Facebook and Twitter) to announce my arrival to a certain area, to find like-minded photographers and meet them and to contact art and photo organizations to arrange collaborations,” he said. “When I blog I do that not only to update my readers on what has happened and the progress of the trip, but also as a memory bank for the future. I'm a very visual person and my memory is rather terrible, so I know that the blog will come in handy someday when I'm ready to write a book.”
So far the trip has been filled with rewards as “The Photo Palace” acts as a magnet when it pulls into towns. “I love making images and I get to experience that pleasure a few times a day,” said Orlov. “Meeting people all over the country is incredibly exciting as well - everywhere I go either my camera or the bus itself spark many intriguing conversations. The moment of stepping into the Beach House in Buffalo NY was simply incredible and right after that there was the wet plate jamboree at John Coffer's farm. Also, I know there's a lot more really neat stuff coming, so I'm very excited to continue the trip.”
All imagery and videos here are published with the permission of Anton Orlov.