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.
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loved every single shot you took! what an achievement to create the plates like you did, you make it sound very no-big-deal, but kudos to you.
Fascinating work. The Edinburgh architecture and the wet plate process makes the images very reminiscent of images from the last quarter of the 19th century.
If you’ve ever wondered why old images of street scenes rarely show people it’s because plates were slow and lenses also that resulted in very long exposures such that people walking weren’t still long enough to register. I bet you could achieve the same result with the appropriate architectural subject.
This must give you a lot of satisfaction.
Really nice work!
It makes me want to give it a try by myself…