160 years ago the photographer was required to be equal parts chemist, technician and artist. Making photographic plates from scratch, the photographer was an Alchemist who possessed the power to conjure images of unmatched reality, using their photographic potions.
After becoming disillusioned with the sterile nature of digital photography and its workflow, I fell in love with the wet plate collodion process which was tactile and required me to be hands on at every step. This enchanted process is used to enhance the mystical atmosphere in my images. I strive to create windows for the viewer to momentarily step into alternate versions of our world.
The Wet Plate Collodion Process
Invented in 1851, wet plate collodion is one of the earliest permanent photographic processes. It requires the photographer to coat a metal plate (Tintype) or a glass plate (Ambrotype) with salted collodion. In the darkroom the plate is submerged in a solution of silver nitrate where the salts become light sensitive silver halides. The plate is then loaded into a holder and brought to the camera for exposure which can range from 1 second to 8 minutes (the collodion’s sensitivity is around ISO 0.5). The collodion must remain wet for the entire process; the photographer only has about 10 minutes of working time before the plate begins to dry. Once exposed, the plate is brought back into the darkroom where it is developed, fixed and placed in a wash bath. The final step to complete the plate is to apply a gum sandarac varnish, which protects the silver image allowing it to last for centuries.