Look beyond what you think you see . . . is what I tell myself each time I take a photograph . . . can the subject become more than what I see before me . . . can it ascend to another level of visual interpretation?
Every time I click the shutter, every time I wander into the darkroom, every time I mix up a new batch of chemistry . . . I experiment, plain and simple. I am not content to produce the mundane . . . it must always become something more.
I began working in wet-plate collodion photography fourteen years ago as an experiment and have been creating with this medium ever since. There was something about this old photographic process that drew me in. Somehow I knew it would give me another voice with which to express myself. My work is not about pretty pictures and happy smiling faces. It is conceptual in nature and my hope is that is provokes intellectual thought towards my themes and art in general. In my approach to wet-plate I am not looking for historical accuracy or traditional methodology. I am solely using the process to put on glass what my mind creates.
What is an Ambrotype?
An ambrotype is made using the wet-plate collodion photography process. It is simply an underexposed glass plate negative. When it is placed against a dark background it appears as a positive image. The ambrotype plate is either backed with a dark material or more directly the plate itself is made on dark colored glass. I make my ambrotypes on black glass to create an unmatched brilliance in the shadows. Once dry, I coat each piece with varnish made from gum sandarac and lavender oil. This helps to protect the image surface and makes it archival.
The Wet-Plate Collodion Process was first introduced in 1851 by the Englishman Frederick Scott Archer. By 1860, it had become the universal photographic method employed by virtually all photographers in the United States and abroad. The wet-plate process continued to be the state of the art until about 1880 when manufactured gelatin dry plates cam into wide spread use.
It is called wet-plate because the plate, be it glass for negatives or ambrotypes, or metal for ferrotypes, cannot be allowed to dry during the entire procedure. Once the plate has been coated with the clear, viscose collodion solution, it must be immediately sensitized, exposed in the camera, developed, fixed and rinsed before the plate dries. The plate loses sensitivity and usefulness once it begins to dry. The entire wet-plate process must be performed for each plate taken. There is no shooting of pictures now and developing them later. In a sense, the wet-plate photographer makes his or her own film and processes it on the spot.
Making the Ambrotype:
- A piece of glass is thoroughly cleaned and polished.
- Holding the plate by the tips of the fingers in a horizontal position, the collodion is flowed over the surface to form a smooth even coating.
- In the darkroom the coated plate is quickly put into a bath of silver nitrate solution and allowed to soak for several minutes. It is withdrawn from the bath, now light sensitive, and while still wet put into a lightproof plate holder.
- The plate holder is then taken to the already aimed and focused camera. The dark slide is removed and the exposure, generally about five seconds, is made by removing and replacing the lens cap of the camera. The dark slide is replaced and the holder is taken back to the darkroom.
- The plate is removed from its holder and developed by pouring an acidic iron sulphate solution over its surface. When the plate is judged to be fully developed it is rinsed in clean water.
- The plate is then put into a solution of hypo or potassium cyanide to dissolve the remaining unaltered silver salts. Itis then washed in clean water.
- The fixed plate is rapidly moved over a gentle flame until dry and while still warm is usually varnished.
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