wet plate collodion
Wet plate is the process of capturing a photographic image onto a solid plate of glass (Ambrotype) or metal (Ferrotype/Tintype). The surface of the material needs to be sensitized with chemicals so it can record the image, but the whole process (including development) needs to be completed before the chemicals dry, hence the name ‘wet plate’. Early practitioners were often referred to as ‘alchemists’ due to the fact that they mixed variations of the original formula from raw materials, many of which were highly toxic!
I became a devotee of the process in early 2019 and loved the more considered approach required to produce images in this way. The process is being revitalised by modern day practitioners and numbers are growing.
At present there are fewer than 5000 active practitioners worldwide (although up to as many as 8000 may have tried the process in the modern era). I use the process made popular by the man accredited with its formulation during the 1850's, Frederick Scott Archer. The process has changed little since its discovery and demands a certain 'patience' to persevere with the fickle nature of the medium.
Characterised by their artefacts (Arty-facts) at the edges of the plates, the images are not 'perfect' in the modern sense of the term, however it is precisely these imperfections together with the originality of the images (there is only one), that makes them unique.
This form of printing was patented in the 1870's and gives you that true artistic feel. Platinum/Palladium is the most archival print we know of today. and has the widest tonal rage of any process being practiced today. Printing is a traditional handmade photographic technique using 'Noble Metals' which also makes it one of the most expensive techniques out there.
Each print is truly one of a kind 'unique'. Although images can be contact printed from the same negative, the coating, exposure and chemical composition will vary slightly from print to print.
The fine art 100% cotton rag paper is coated with the various solutions to make it light sensitive and then a negative is contact printed under a UV light source to make the image. The exposure can take several minutes and is then developed and cleared in successive solutions before archival washing.
The entire process can take two or three hours to make just one print! My technique produces neutral black images, but varying the ratio of Platinum and Palladium solutions can produce a very warm brown tone and everything in-between.