The Dawson Cabin, Glady, WV


At the end of October I had the opportunity to spend a few days at my family’s rustic cabin in the mountains of West Virginia. I’d been itchin’ to make some more tintypes of the place, including details of some of the artifacts and capturing aspects of life at the cabin.

The Dawson’s log cabin, with my portable darkroom (an ice fishing shelter) set up behind it.

Over two days of photographing I was able to work on a couple of the shots I wanted, but the weather forecasts weren’t reliable, and I didn’t get everything. One day was supposed to be hard rain, so I went for a drive and to town for supplies. Of course the storms cleared and there was a glorious fall evening and sunset. Then the next day that was supposed to be brilliant sun was heavily overcast.

This wood stove is the main source of heat for our one-room cabin. It’s usually enough, but on one trip, when the outside temperatures didn’t get above 15F, it was all I could do to keep the temperature above 60F even a few feet away from the stove. (There is no insulation in the cabin.)

So, many of the things I wanted to do – interiors of the cabin, details of objects inside – didn’t get done. The one photo of the woodstove was a very long exposure – I think 120 seconds – and it still took 30-40 seconds to develop (i.e, it was dark in there).


Still, it was a fun couple days of work. The temperatures ranged from about 33F to 44F, and despite that the chemistry worked out ok. I had a great time tromping around the grounds out in the cool fresh air, making tintypes.

My grandfather, Melvin E. Dawson, kept an assortment of traps hanging from the south wall of the cabin above the cookstove and kitchen sink.

I also wanted to make a tintype of a person there, and as often happens, I was the only person around, so it was selfie time.


The only way I have to trigger my 4×5 view camera remotely is with an air-pressure bulb, which kinda sucks. In this case I had it under the heel of my foot. It was so dark on the day I made these that the exposures were 45-60 seconds.


The end result was that in nearly ever attempt, my foot would raise up during those 45-60 seconds enough that the shutter would close prematurely. In one tintype I actually stood up, re-set the shutter, sat down, and triggered it again. (I managed to sit in the same spot, except that my foot was different, with the result that part of the railing is mysteriously passing through my leg.)

In one case I embraced it – stood up, re-set the shutter, and made a double exposure without sitting back in place. (above)

View from the north window.

For the first day’s shoot I carefully thought about where I’d place the darkroom so that it wouldn’t appear in my shots. Of course I then saw a shot I hadn’t anticipated, and had to go through acrobatics to hide the big red blob behind an open door.


There were some challenges to working on the side of a forested mountain. One time I came back to the darkroom to find my fragile tintypes, sitting in water baths, completely covered with blown leaves. (Several of the tins were slightly damaged by the leaves.) I also nearly lost an entire bath of silver nitrate – about $50 worth – when I flipped open the lid and the now-top-heavy tank started to head down the hill it was sitting on.


It’s funny the things we take for granted working in a controlled lab environment, like having a level surface to work on. #westvirginiamountainproblems

Speaking of West Virginia life, here is the view from the throne / library / privvy.


In case you’re confused, here’s the behind-the-scenes shot:


To wrap things up, here is the view from the porch, looking east over the Glady Fork valley and Middle Mountain in the distance.