Wet plate collodion, one of the earliest photographic processes, has been experiencing a resurgence of interest in recent years. In our Wet Plate Collodion workshop with photographer Kerik Kouklis from April 10-12, 2009, you will learn how to create wet plate positive images as well as wet plate negatives. Through a combination of discussions, field sessions and darkroom time, participants will learn how to use this historic process in their own photography.
You will learn, preparation and safe handling of the chemicals used in the process, cutting and preparation of glass for ambrotypes and negatives, adapting standard film holders for wet plate use, reading light and exposure (light meters are useless with wet plate), pouring collodion, development techniques, options for fixing and varnishing and presentation.
The wet plate collodion process was invented in 1851 by Englishman Frederick Scott Archer. It was created as an easier alternative to the daguerreotype, the first photographic process invented in 1839. Although less labor intensive and more accessible than the daguerreotype, wet plate collodion requires that the preparation of the plate through exposure and development to be completed in sequence while the plate is wet. This means that some sort of a darkroom must be present in the field when photographing. In the 1800’s this was accomplished with pack mules and tents. Modern day collodion artists use campers, trailers, or small, portable “dark boxes” to process their plates in the field.
To make a wet plate collodion image, first a substrate of either glass or metal is coated with collodion, a syrupy liquid that forms a thin skin on the plate. The plate is then sensitized in a bath of silver nitrate for about five minutes. While still wet, the plate is loaded into a plate holder and inserted into the camera and the exposure is made. The plate is then immediately developed, fixed and washed. The plate must remain wet throughout the process otherwise it will lose its sensitivity. There are about five to ten minutes available between removing the plate from the silver bath and making the exposure before the plate begins to dry out.
Collodion images can either be positives or negatives. Traditionally, the positives are called ambrotypes when they are on glass or tintypes if they are on blackened steel or tin. Many modern practitioners use aluminum coated on one side with black enamel paint.
Because each plate is coated and processed by hand, each original plate is one-of-a-kind piece. The images can be reproduced using either traditional or digital printing methods. The plates in this exhibit are unique, original, in-camera plates made on aluminum. The prints are made digitally from high-resolution scans of the plates then printed on archival paper using archival pigment inks. All images are available as editioned pigment prints in two sizes: 10”x12” and 16”x20”.