The Phoenix Alternative Festival 2016

A couple of weekends ago Andrew Billington, Patrick Ballanger and myself were invited along to the Phoenix Alternative Festival held at LLanfyllin Workhouse in Mid Wales.

We weren’t too sure what to expect, it was billed as a sort of Steampunk/sub-culture alternative boutique festival, and we had been asked along to set up a wet plate studio. Although the three of us are good friends via Facebook we have never set up like that before so anything could have happened.  We didnt have any fancy elaborate outfits like the majority of the festival goers but we tried to scrub up a little with waistcoats and Bowlers, more of a Victorian Gent.

There was plenty of space for camping, Andy and Helen were in their van, Patrick and Anna had a tent but I couldn’t be bothered putting up my tent so just slept in the back of the car with the rear seats down, being a short Welshman I could lie down diagonally and it was a surprisingly comfortable fit. I must thank Andy and Helen for the continuous cups of tea and breakfast each morning. Much appreciated.

I’d bought a 3mx3m pop up gazebo, we had our own darkroom tents, a couple of tables and some bits n pieces. We were just going to wing it. I’d brought the bright green curtains from the studio, Andy had a backdrop and Patrick had brought along a chair and some props, so between us we were able to set up a pretty convincing outdoor studio set up, well I say convincing, what I really mean is passable, sort of. It seemed to work well all weekend and everything survived the gale force wind on the Thursday night.


Andy and Patrick prepping plates.


One of Andys test plate of Patrick and I.

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The first customer of the festival. It started off slow but I think once people realised we were doing the real thing and not some digital mock up, we just got busier and busier.


The calm before the storm or maybe just taking it easy.


There was also a chap visiting from near Birmingham, who was wandering around shooting digital, he had such a good day on the Saturday he came back on the Sunday and gave me this inkjet print he had taken of me, I didn’t get his name, but thank you again.


Most people had different outfits for each day. These guys were pretty impressive and just to make my life difficult, one wore a black suit and the other wore a gleaming white one. I believe he was shooting flames the next day!?

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This was one of my test plates. The lady didn’t return, if anybody know who she is, let me know and I can pop it in the post to her.


We never pass up the opportunity to pose for a plate and thought it would be a good idea to get one of the three of us on a refreshment break.


Patrick varnishing on of his excellent plates. Andy and myself opted for the wax. This plate is a cracker and the family were over the moon with it.


Fleur Noire and her glamorous assistant (temp) Drustan Durman from the The Copperfield Ensemble.


Upside down and part way through her aerial performance, it was really impressive.


Photographer Ruud De Korte with Helinja Ruiter and Constance Bashford had come over from Netherlands and are well known in the Steampunk community.


Constance and Helinja were very patient sitting for several plates on the Sunday.

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A 5×4 tintype of Constance. I’ve been promised some high res copies, so I’ll add them to the post in the future as they arrive. Thats the one problem we found with selling plates, unless you get a quick capture on your mobile phone you have no digital examples of your work. Luckily people offer to scan/copy the plates and email them to us later. Much appreciated. I hadn’t taken many digi shots on my iphone because it was on its last legs. Thanks Constance for sending me the ones from your mobile.



Patrick was also shooting some Fuji Instants…. which were also very popular. These are the Gribble Sisters I believe?


The “negs” were just left to one side but I asked if I could save these two to digitise when I got back home.


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Some of my plates in the wash.

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For me the highlight of my plate making that weekend was this 5×4 tintype of Martin Wattinger, I couldn’t really go wrong, such an amazing subject for wet plate. (Unedited version)


It wasn’t all plate making, there was a little relaxing and merriment. There was even a Wedding!!! Congratulations to Silver and Tony.

There was an extensive list of bands, performers, stalls and activities over the three days. Two stages, indoor and out, alternating between acts.

We didn’t get to see many of the daytime acts but highlights for me from the evenings were Babel, Little Red Dog, The Wattingers, The Cracked Actors, Arc of the Spark, The Teardrop Caravan, The Grand Order of the Steam Hammer, The Time Travelling Tea Tent, oh and not forgetting Jezebel Steele and all the “Cabaret” acts!


Patrick relaxing after a hard days plate making. Looking very dapper indeed.


The festival was also raising funds  for Macmillan Cancer Support and the LLanfyllin Workhouse Charities. We offered 20% of all plate sales to the chosen charities. It was a very busy weekend and we were surprised to have raised a decent ammount for both charities after three days, so that was a pleasant bonus.

We had thought we would finish fairly early on the Sunday with people leaving around lunchtime. Not the case at all, it was the busiest day, we didn’t get packed up and on our way till gone 20.00. We all had a great time and we are really hoping we get an invite for next year.


Edit: Re reading this blog post I realised there is so much I’ve missed out as there was so much going on, what a great event!

Additional images by Patrick Ballanger, Helen Billington and Constance Bashford. Thank you.