Over the past couple of years, I have revisited many techniques and discovered new ones in my quest for a personal way of working. I thought I’d found my path when my first wet-plate collodion image appeared in my stained hands.
The mid 18th Century process has everything necessary to induce addiction in the analogue photographer. Feedback is almost instantaneous and the results are unpredictable enough for every plate to induce an ecstatic rush of endorphins or a crash that sends you scrambling to try again. Unfortunately, wet-plate photography is obstinately immobile. The whole process of sensitisation, exposure, development, and fixing must be completed in a few minutes before the collodion dries.
I want to work in the landscape but to do that with wet-plate requires the superpowers of someone like Borut Peterlin and his trusty Landrover. It neither fits with my day job nor travels where a vehicle won’t go. When COVID-19 came along it closed down those few wet-plate projects that I had been planning. I’d lost my path. Then I came across a description of how to make simple silver gelatin dry-plates. This is the conventional film photography we know and love but 1880’s style. I had previously dismissed gelatin film as far too complex but now I realised I had everything I needed to make Victorian-style dry plates – apart from the actual gelatin.
A packet of Dr. Oetker’s cake making gelatin soon remedied that.
These images are from my very first emulsion, cobbled together in a few hours and poured onto glass plates made from recycled picture frames. I exposed them using my Wista 45D with the trusty Nikkor-W 150mm f/5.6. The Wista is very robust and a joy to use. The lens can stay on it while it is folded making it quick to set up and pull down but it weighs twice as much as my Intrepid 4×5. If I were walking any distance I would take the Intrepid!
Exposure of this emulsion (christened RH-1) is a little hit and miss because it is only sensitive to UV and blue light. The ISO equivalence is definitely less than 1. Most exposures were around five minutes at f/16 producing negatives that were very thin but scanned OK on my Epson Perfection Pro V800. They are very dusty and messy but I don’t care as this is a first attempt.
The images are of Edinburgh and a trip to Braemar in the Scottish Highlands. Dry-plate is definitely my new path. Emulsion RH-2, made with proper photographic gelatin, is sitting in the fridge waiting to be poured.
Want to submit your own 5 Frames...?
Go right ahead, submissions are open! Get your 5 frames featured on by submitting your 350+ word article by either using this Google form or by sending an email via the contact link at the top of the page.
This series is produced in conjunction with Hamish Gill's excellent 35mmc.com. Head on over to read the other half of these stories there.
Share your knowledge, story or project
At the heart of EMULSIVE is the concept of helping promote the transfer of knowledge across the film photography community. You can support this goal by contributing your thoughts, work, experiences and ideas to inspire the hundreds of thousands of people who read these pages each month. Check out the submission guide here.
If you like what you're reading you can also help this personal passion project by heading on over to the EMULSIVE Patreon page and giving as little as a dollar a month. There's also print and apparel over at Society 6, currently showcasing over two dozen t-shirt designs and over a dozen unique photographs available for purchase.