A Vacation and Workshop at the Mayan Ruins of Yucatan ... Again in 2016

Submitted by Mark Osterman,

Our group at Uxmal.

Eastman Museum held its first expeditionary workshops in Mexico last February. It was good timing since the worst winter in years hit the northeast while we were shooting collodion plates with temperatures in the mid-80s. We chose the small city of Merida in the Yucatan peninsula as our base because it had a small town feeling and the Mayan ruins of Uxmal and Dzibilchaltun were only a short drive from where we established our darkroom.

The hotels were inexpensive in Merida and the food was absolutely wonderful. After dinner we walked around the town square in the evenings where there always seemed to be a festival with music and vendors, and when we had time on the weekends we went to the massive market place where we collected everything from wrought iron tools to spices.

The ambrotype class inspecting their plates.

Our darkrooms were in the Escuela Superior de Artes de Yucatan, a national art school established in a very large old train station. We taught a two day tintype workshop followed by a two day ambrotype workshop at the school. Most of the people attending these short workshops were from Mexico but we also had some Americans too. In the beginning, they all wanted to shoot portraits, until they realized that not far away we had a great view of abandoned railway cars and architectural details of the old station.

Tintype of railway cars.

The next week we held a five day, dry collodion negative workshop for a small group of six. We prepared our plates at the school, then drove to the locations where we had unlimited access to shot our 8x10 glass negatives of the Mayan ruins. We did a lot of climbing on the sites and shared space with the iguanas that seem to be everywhere. It was a great site for digital shooting too. After lunch we would go back to the school to develop the plates and prepare new ones for the next day. The last time this process was used to photograph the ruins was when Desire Charnay exposed his collodion plates back in the 1850s; an amazing though for all of us. At the end of the week the group was taught how to make waxed salted paper prints from their glass negatives, unique souvenirs of a really wonderful time.

(Left) Shooting at Dzibilchaltun. (Right) Salt print from dry collodion negative.

The workshops were such a success that we are going back to Yucatan in February 2016 to teach the same three workshops. There is no experience necessary and the experience is extraordinary. The two day workshops are great for those who come for several days to get away from the frigid North and want a fun learning activity and the five day negative workshop is a real adventure.

Learn more about the upcoming workshops in Mexico:


Mark Osterman is the Process Historian in the Kay R. Whitmore Conservation Center at the George Eastman Museum. Best known for his depth of knowledge in the area of collodion photography, Osterman is also internationally recognized for his research and teaching of photographic processes from Niepce heliographs to gelatin emulsions. Osterman's curriculum, once reserved for the international conservation community, is now available to the public through a series of hands-on workshops at the Eastman Museum and other venues in the U.S. and abroad.