I’ve recently noticed many photographers investigating vintage collodion or wet plate processes. The 19th century invention of Frederick Scott Archer, wet plate glass negatives, have a look all their own. Many contemporary artists are working within the wet plate process to make some extraordinary “vintage” images in our modern time.
Collodion is a process which involves dissolving nitro cellulose, also known as ‘guncotton’, in ether. This solution is then poured onto a well cleaned glass plate and spread around the glass by tilting back and forth until the glass plate is evenly coated. It’s then dipped into silver nitrate and loaded into a film/plate holder while still wet.
With the camera having been already focused and readied to shoot, the holder is inserted into the camera and exposed. This process had to be accomplished quickly, as drying out ruins the coated plate. It is then processed as a normal negative would be for an excellent result.
Because of the volatility of ether, many photographers died – in fact on average, 1 photographer died per week in the 19th century due to some facet of the wet plate process. Another cause of death was the use of liquid silver nitrate, which left your hands blackened. The ‘quick’ remedy to remove the black stain was to rub your hands with a cyanide crystal, potentially fatal if you had a scratch on a finger or hang nail.
The wet collodion process held sway from the late 1850’s until the 1880’s when dry plates became readily available.
Watch this excellent video filming Luther Gerlach working on location with wet plates.
Amelie and Alchemy from Konstantin Brazhnik on Vimeo.
An antiquarian man. A contemporary daughter. For 15 seconds two worlds collide and from the black arts emerges poetry.
Another video worth watching – Rob Kendrick Tintypes
Robb Kendrick – The Tintype Process
More good stuff here – Sally Mann discussing a wet plate project. Video from the NPR website:
Sally Mann, From Lens to Photo
For more information about the collodion process and other alternative processes, visit these sites: