December 20, 2016 – Weekend before last my pal Cindy and I went to a wet-plate collodion photography workshop. What is wet-plate you ask? Instead of shooting on a negative and processing the film, you make the image directly on a collodion-and-silver-nitrate-coated piece of tin or glass. Yep. Good old tin types. Afterward, I kicked myself for not shooting the process with my DSLR for this week’s Artistic Art, but then realized the image itself a piece of art.
Week 51: Artistic Art
Your artistic interpretation should be art, about art.
The photo is of my classmate Brian. For props, I used an old pair of motorcycle goggles and my antique lunchpail. The apron and gloves he had for class. This is by far the best image I made that weekend. Teacher even took a photo of my photo with classmates.
The frustrations of the process can be enough to make you lose your mind. Every step needs to be approached with care because if the slightest thing is off, the photo will be a fail. But man! When you nail it? Totally makes up for the disappoints.
There were ten students in the class, two assistants, the teacher, and four cameras to work with. Diggin’ Simon’s over the shoulder pose. Ha!
Cindy and I never got our hands on the largest nor smallest format of the three, so mainly worked the box camera and the accordion (seen below), shooting 4×6 images.
Here’s the resulting image Brian took of me from the above post. You’ll notice it’s reversed.
So here’s how the workshop went.
Day one, we shot on tin. The tin must first be coated in collodion, by far the hardest part of the process–getting an even coating before it starts to gel. As Allan put it, work with gentle urgency.
Next, the plate goes into a 3 minute silver nitrate bath in the darkroom before getting placed into the camera back–light tight—and taken out to the camera.
Once the image is focused and set, and everything locked down, the focus glass is taken out and replaced with the prepped wet plate.
The subject must remain perfectly still while the photographer gently removes lens cap and makes the exposure, for example, the image I made of of Brian was a six second exposure.
Now the camera plate goes back to the darkroom, into the developer for twenty seconds, rinsed for thirty seconds, and fixed for five minutes.
This was Cindy’s first image she made. The image is canted because the plate slipped in the holder, one of MANY issues that can happen between plate prep and processing.
Another challenge? Getting the exposure right. The image I made of Cindy below was way over exposed. I snagged a picture of the picture on my iPhone and thankfully was able to darken it up. I’ll scan and do it properly soon.
Here’s Cindy’s best image of the day.
By day’s end, we all felt pretty good with our results. We varnished our favorite images and left them to dry.
Then came …
Yeah. Day two didn’t go so great. I look drunk in this photo. I swear I’m not.
We started working with glass. Glass takes a ton more prep than tin. Cutting the glass, sanding the edges, cleaning with whiting powder until it squeaks, coating the edges with egg white, pouring the collodion.
Of the three plates I made, I had only one that wasn’t a complete fail.
First one, the image looked great in the developer, but in the rinse, water got under the collodion and the image rolled right off the glass. ARGH!!
Second one? Again, looking good in the developer, but while in the fixer tray, someone else’s plate rubbed against mine and chunked the image right off.
Third and final image–made on a gorgeous purple glass–was my best, but far from perfect. My collodion didn’t coat the plate entirely. Knowing this, I made very careful to keep the uncoated portion at the bottom of the image, TOTALLY forgetting that the image is upside down and reversed, so instead of being at the bottom, the uncoated part was right across Cindy’s face.
Cindy had much better success, although we all struggled with the fragility of the emulsion.
So will I continue??
A big resounding yes. I’m currently in search of the right equipment and have every intention to learn this and learn it well. There’s something beautifully ethereal about the images, and truly puts a photographer back into the process, even if it does make a mess of the fingers.
Until the FINAL Dogwood 52 image of the year, another SELF PORTRAIT,