Wet Plate images have a primitive look that I happen to love.
For some time now, I've had an interest in Wet Plate Collodion. I love the uniqueness of the images, the limitations of the emulsion, the magical flaws and the idea of working at a slower pace. I've had the interest, but the time has been difficult to find. Collodion is a meticulous and time consuming procedure.
Over time, I've accumulated most of the things I need to proceed including the holders and glass plates, whiting, a glass cutter, the trays and sensitizing tank. A few years back, I took a workshop where I had training in making and shooting the plates. During that class, I actually made a few very nice images. In fact, they were very beautiful images that I really loved. I’ll explain.
Wet Plate is an alternative photographic method that dates back to the mid to late 1800’s. It is a real hands on DIY image-making experience. Unlike digital, you actually have to do some physical work to create an image. Everything you do is reliant on everything else in the process. It depends on how well you prepare your plates, the mixtures, the coating, the camera you use, the light, the exposure, and so forth.
As a result, there are many things that can go wrong, or right at any point in the process. If everything works as expected, you end up with something beautiful. When everything comes together it is absolutely amazing. When things go wrong, it can be very frustrating. The reward of a successful image is the pure excitement of seeing something you produced from all your hard work.
Yes, I have made a few plates. They were beautiful! However, one of the steps in making a plate involves drying the processed plate over an open flame. During this step, it is very important to move the plate continuously over the flame in such a way as to avoid uneven heating of the glass. Uneven heat will cause the plate to shatter.
And that is when and how I lost my beautiful plates. Even though I had been warned, I was so excited about seeing my wonderful images that I rushed the process at a critical moment during the very final stages.
The things you learn in doing a procedure such as wet plate, you usually learn the hard way. You break a few plates, but you learn from your error. The next time, you try a bit harder and you go a bit slower. You think carefully about each step. It is what makes you a better image-maker and a better craftsman. There are lessons to be learned from each portion of the process.
Over time, after making an assortment of blunders, one develops a rhythmic and systematic working technique that defines the completed work. The process becomes a part of the maker. It becomes a Zen-like practice that is as much a component of photographic creation as everything else in the process.
The wet plate process like other alternative imaging processes pushes the limits of ones abilities, ones perseverance and ones patience. It makes you a better practitioner as you become the master.
One day soon, I hope to continue my pursuit of this unique and intriguing photographic technique.
It is all good. It is all worthwhile.
Watch this video to find out more about the process.