Collodion

 

There are many blogs and websites describing the history and process of wet plate collodion and all of them are probably better at describing this process than I possibly could.

I have never , even back at school liked, or been any good at Physics and Chemistry. The only reason I tried was because it was required to get into the RAF to fly Harrier jump jets. But along with my almost dyslexic ability at Maths my lack of academic abilities would put paid to any ambition I had to fly from the decks of the Ark Royal.

I switched from Chemistry to A level Art mid term on the insistence of my Science teacher.

My interest in wet plate photography has now forced me to face my fear of these subjects. At this point in time I know what to do, what to mix with what as well as knowing what not to mix together, but that does not mean that I have the slightest interest as to why it happens, it just does….OK ?

Luckily there are some very good teachers on the subject out there who also supply manuals and on line tutorials as well as some very good interactive blog forums. A well exposed Black glass or Perspex Ambrotype is a thing of beauty, along with the shallow depth of field from old petzval lenses and the absence of grain in the emulsion they can give an almost holographic effect to the plates. However I still embrace the digital age to extend the possibilities of the medium. The Ambrotype is a one off but can still be used in a similar way to a negative in that given a good scanner the images can still have a life off of the plate.

In the late 1800’s the boom in the Carte de Visite cards which were mass produced prints from the collodion negatives started the idea of having lots of copies of the same image at very low cost. Ever since then, at least until the digital age, skilled printers produced prints from gelatine based negatives. The digital image now gives the photographer himself the ability to refine their images in the same way that those skilled printers of previous decades did for their photographer clients. Not only that it gives them the ability to extend those images to an even wider audience via the internet. There are many many media sharing sites which promote inspirational photography, indeed without this resource it would be very dificult to spread the word in resurecting not only collodion but also daguerotypes, cyanotypes, salt and albumen printing. The very thing which  put the nail in the coffin of gelatine based silver emulsion film is now making it possible to help save these wonderful old processes before they are forgotten completely.

 

2 Comments

  1. Elizabete

    Dear Dave,

    We are photography students from Edinburgh College of Art. We are interested in learning the wet collodion process and were wondering if you teach groups or organise workshops?
    We are looking forward to hear from you soon,

    ECA students

    • Sorry Im unfortunately not doing workshops. I think there are a couple of people in Scotland and the north of england who are though , don’t have their details to hand but Im sure you could find them online. Dave