Wet Plate Collodion
December 04, 2012
Author: Alex Timmermans
It seemed like a logical step to switch from analogue to digital. But, everything became more predictable… too predictable. The excitement and magic of film were lost.
I’ve practiced photography throughout my whole life, starting with a Nikkormat FTn, but I never imagined that a photographic process which was invented more than 160 years ago would have such an influence on my passion for photography. Working on the wet plate process, using antique cameras and brass lenses with a glorious photographic history, like the Dallmeyer, Hermagis and Darlot lenses, brought inspiration back to photography for me.
In the wet plate collodion process, the final image is greatly influenced by circumstances of coincidence. Apart from the influence of chemicals, weather conditions create unique conditions as well.
Shooting a single plate usually takes around an hour, or sometimes even longer. Most of this time is spent setting up the lighting and positioning the camera. However, in addition to this, it’s not possible to prepare the plates in advance. So, in order to make just one single picture, you have to go through the whole process: cleaning the glass, pouring the plate with collodion, sensitize, exposure, developing, washing, fixing, washing it again, and finally varnishing. Doing it outdoors means that you have to take everything with you, including a mobile darkroom, home-made chemicals, etc… A fully loaded wagon. However, seeing the picture transform in the fixer bath from a negative into a positive is a magical spectacle, making the time and energy spent on a single plate really worthwhile.
Throughout the years, I’ve succeeded in collecting a few original studio cameras with formats up to 40 cm x 40 cm, and last year, a camera was made for me to custom specs, for a plate size up to 20×20 inch. You can’t get any closer to the photographic process than when working on wet plate photography. Collodion photography is more than just a kind of photography… It’s a passion as well!
Alex Timmermans (b. 1962, The Netherlands) is a self-taught photographer with a strong passion for ancient photographic techniques. More information about this fascinating process can be found on Alex’s collodion blog.