Wet plate collodion photography goes back to the 1850’s, but the process was short lived and only lasted until the end of that decade due to the discovery of the dry plate.
The wet plate process was popular during the American Civil War because this was the first war that was extensively photographed using this photographic process.
Today, the process is becoming popular again due to photographers looking for a different alternative from the digital process and the bombardment of the “selfie”.
For my university BA (Hons) Communication Design (Photography) degree I wanted to move away from the digital process and go back in time and discover the art and craftmanship of real photography.
My wet plate journey started on the 22nd November 2014.
When working with wet plate collodion photography, the first thing that really captures your attention is the stunning cameras and the craftmanship that went into making these beautiful cameras.
I felt very lucky to have the privilege to use these stunning cameras for this university project.
These cameras go back to the 1800’s, and its only once you see them and begin to use these cameras for the wet plate process that you start to feel what photography really means.
What is wet plate collodion photography?
Wet plate collodion photogaphy is more than just taking a photography.
A serious of steps have to be done using glass or tin plates and a combination of chemicals such as Collodion, Siver Nitrate, Developers, Fixers and Varnishes are used just to get one single image.
The wet plate collodion process was invented by Frederick Scott Archer in 1851. Archer used a newly discovered substance called Collodion which was used as a medical dressing. A sticky solution of gun cotton in ether, collodion dried quickly to produce a tough transparent waterproof film.
The wet plate process steps
A glass (Ambrotype) or tin (Tintype) plate is coated in a chemical called Collodion.
The coated plate is then immersed in a bath of silver nitrate, which made it sensitive to light.
The wet glass or tin plate is then placed in a light-proof box.
The plate in its special light-proof holder is then placed inside the camera.
A panel in the light-proof holder, known as the film plate holder or dark slide along with the lens cap of the camera, is then removed for several second, thereby taking the photograph.
The dark slide of the light-proof box is then replaced, sealing the plate up in darkness again.
The glass or tin plate is then talen to the darkroom or darkbox and developed in chemicals and “Fixed” making the image on the plate permenant.
The image is then coated in varnish to ensure the permanence of the image.
Sounds simple? then give it a go.