Dave King

Agata KubiakIn 1851, Frederick Scott Archer introduced a wet plate process, sometimes referred to as the collodion process after the carrier material used. The process is very simple in concept: cadmium bromide, ammonium iodide or chloride salts were dissolved in collodion, which is a solution of pyroxylin in alcohol and ether. This mixture was poured onto a cleaned glass plate, and allowed to sit for a few seconds. The plate was then sensitized by placing in a solution of silver nitrate and water. Once this reaction was complete, the plate was removed from the silver nitrate solution, and exposed in a camera while still wet. It was developed with a solution of iron sulfate, acetic acid and alcohol in water and fixed using either potassium cyanide or sodium thiosulphate.

I had seen a documentary on Sally Manns use of wet plate photography and was aware of people producing plates and posting them on Flickr. Many hours of research on the internet gleaned many forums and blogs on the subject. There is a bigger wet plate scene in the USA with people like John Coffer, France Scully and Mark Osterman leading the way in teaching the process. While there are many others using it commercially at Civil war re enactments to produce tintypes of the type produced in the 1860’s. There are fewer people using it in Europe and the UK but enough to give me some pointers to the sources of the chemistry. Cameras and lenses can be adapted from modern plate cameras but many use the original Petzval lenses which can give a unique image which is impossible to achieve with modern lens design. Because of this Ebay prices are increasing rapidly. Old wet plate cameras are hard to come by and are generally not in good condition , there are craftsmen custom making wet plate cameras, but to save time ( and money ) I have constructed my own plate cameras and equipment. It can be a frustrating process but also very rewarding, care and precision and a clean and methodical manner of working will reward you with unique and virtually grain less images .

 

Dave King

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  1. By Inspiration: Wet Plate Flora Photography « G2 creative 13 Jul ’12 at 1:06 pm