The Making of a Wet Plate Collodian Photograph
The majority of my gelatin silver portfolios are made with medium format cameras utilizing the 2 ¼ x 2 ¼ inch negative. The portability of this format proved to be an advantage when traveling and photographing in New York City, Las Vegas, or the high desert of the west. When I first began shooting 4x5 inch and ultimately 8x10 inch negatives, I found myself staying closer to home and discovered the intriguing possibilities found in “tabletop” shooting – controlled lighting, composition, background. About this time, however, digital imaging was getting its legs: the future was coming and digital was the future.
I don’t care for digital imaging because I believe photographs are made with light and chemicals not bytes and Photoshop. And rather than cling to 8x10 contact printing I went further back in time to the mid-nineteenth century and discovered wet-plate collodion photography. Paradoxically, this step back in photographic technology enabled me to experience photography in a completely new way, and the limitations many find in the wet-plate process I find to be challenging and liberating. Instead of purchasing film I flow each plate needed to make an image. Instead of firing off exposures I need twenty minutes to complete every plate. The one-of-a-kind nature that is inherent in the tintype image also appeals.
I do very little gelatin silver printing any more, devoting my time now to making tintypes on aluminum. My subjects are everyday objects, mostly “tabletop” in size which I photograph in my driveway on a raised shooting platform. Self-portraiture and the “antiquarian avant-garde” are also of interest to me. Can a retro-photographic technology dormant for more than a hundred years have an important and revelatory voice in the 21st- century? I believe the answer is yes.
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