In the Summer of 2021 something special is coming to the Scottish Highlands (and hopefully elsewhere), courtesy of Simon Riddell, a van, a large camera, and a lot of chemicals! 

No, it’s not a sequel to Human Traffic, it’s a bold and exciting project from the man who helped bring us One Shot: Inchindown, the film about turning an underground WWII fuel bunker into the world’s largest darkroom.

Simon’s latest project is called “MentalCollodion”, the aim of the project is to raise awareness and support people who are dealing with mental health and well-being issues. The project is also accessible for people who have extraordinary stories to tell.

Currently in the funding stage, the project will involve the conversion of a van into a mobile darkroom and equipment cache, which will then be used to travel the length and breadth of the UK (any beyond), capturing people and their stories on wet plates.

Let’s get the obvious bit out of the way. Simon is a fantastic photographer. As you will see from the pictures in this article, his chosen medium is Wet Plate Collodion and boy does he make it sing. One of the earliest forms of photography, the Wet Plate Collodion process originated in the mid 1800s, is extremely technical and produces some of the highest resolution images possible on either glass or metal plates that are absolutely stunning.

He uses a brass barrel lens that is way over 100 years old, and a frankenstein large format camera that he has built himself out of parts of other donor cameras, including a ground glass that he ground himself, literally, using a sander! 

As the title of the project suggests, it is all about mental health.

As Simon says: 

“Essentially I would like to shoot portraits of those people that have something meaningful to record and share, for example overcoming hardships or helping others in an extra-ordinary way, I am in touch with a few people working in the healthcare system in terms of COVID-19, these people have emotional and inspiring stories to tell.” 

Simon is no stranger to mental anguish, including PTSD. Please see a previous article on EMULSIVE for more details. He has been using the collodion process to explore his own psyche for some time, with some of the results shown here. His dream is to allow others to have the experience of sitting for a plate in the same way that he has, and hopefully feeling some catharsis as a result.  

“I have received excellent feedback regarding the article and subject matter. People who have been affected by PTSD have contacted me and arranged for a photoshoot / workshop experience and said that the process has greatly helped boost their positivity and outlook. The fact that they can take a plate away and remember our session is a constant reminder and positive energy.” 

Simon is gaining recognition in the photographic art world and is collecting strongly worded support both for his work in and of itself, but also for the nature of the work and the unique effect that his plates have. 

“My work in this field has most recently been regarded as spiritualistic and compared to the portrait of Lewis Powell, captured and photographed on board the USS Saugus in 1865 for his part in the conspiracy to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln.” 


You can see the similarity, it’s in the eyes. “The eyes are a window to the soul” is an often-bandied term, but in this instance, you feel like it may actually be literal truth! 

I’ll leave you with a short summary by Simon of the project. 

“Capturing 10 seconds or more of someone’s life is an incredibly intimate experience. I want to record the struggles and triumphs of our people, living in a world in crisis with COVID-19.”


I can’t wait to see what comes of this. Part of Simon’s plan is to create a permanent display in the highlands of images created from the project as a lasting body of work that future generations will be able to see and gain understanding of these times, and the people that lived in them.

I know I will be visiting.

Simon has recently set up a Go Fund Me page to help get the project off the ground. If you have the money spare to do so (and only if…) please do consider dropping a bit his way. Pending funding, Simon plans to convert a van into a mobile darkroom and equipment cache, which is something he’s done before, but not for collodion.

That’s step one, which will allow him to travel legitimately for the project, subject to Government COVID-19 restrictions. The longer-term plan is to shoot 50 plates in the first year, roughly 1-2 a week. People will be able to get in touch, find out more, book a sitting, then scan, share and publicise their stories and experiences with the Wet Plate Collodion.

To leave with a final thought from Simon,

There will be a strong online presence. I see online platforms as offering a safe place for people to share their experiences and find some support. However small it may be, that support might just make all the difference.

Let’s not dull it down, people are committing suicide due to their situations, circumstances, and states of mind. This cannot go on.

You can track the project on Instagram at @menatalcollodion and on Facebook at @MentalCollodion.

~ Rob

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About the author

Rob is a photographer and writer who has contributed a number of pieces on his own work and others for and has his own photo and writing blog ''. He has a few long term projects on the go including a book "Nowhere to Go" investigating...

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