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MUSINGS FROM THE ETHER: IS COLLODION RIGHT FOR ME?

Dale Wilson 1851 ambrotype Canada Canadian collodion dale wilson Frederick Scott Archer glass negative glass plates historical photo processes pictureology tintype wetplate

I never understood this question when I first started making traditional plates and prints. However, as one month crept to the next, it started to make sense. The vast majority of people starting to smell ether and pursue pouring collodion had never worked in analog processes, or, had no photography experience at all.

My lack of understanding came from the fact that I view photography as just that – photography. Photography is the language, the process is the verb. Therefore, wet plate photography is little different than digital captures, or E6 and C41 processes. Collodion at its very core is little more than another tool within the photographer’s tool chest from which to communicate a predetermined message.  In other words, each film developing process is little more than a verb, or action, within the broader photographic language. 

A blank plate as made by Quinn Jacobson. What we decide to put on that plate is the decision every photographer must make while realizing substance is more important than process.

Yet, without this most basic understanding many will invest many hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to purchase the necessary equipment and sundry items. We must admit, not too many people have a view camera sitting in a darkroom closet. After much trial and error, following all the You Tube expertise, our beginner has minimal success to show for this heavy investment. Ultimately many quietly fade away and start selling off that little used equipment. This is a sin, and especially so if they had only considered to learn how to walk before attempting to run. 

My suggestion to the beginner that might be considering a foray into the various collodion processes is to slow down. You must already have an interest as your internet search led you here. Therefore, stop overloading the mind with all of the contradicting internet expertise and source a qualified instructor and get yourself loaded on a two day beginner workshop. The workshop should be providing all the necessary cameras, chemicals and sundry equipment necessary, thus negating the need to make the heavy capital cost purchases first.  This may sound expensive, but it is far more economical than buying all the equipment and fumbling along developing bad habits and not being rewarded with results. 

Collodion based photography is not for the meek. It is an expensive proposition by digital standards, has an incredibly long learning curve, and is fraught with frustration. Yet, once mastered, the reward is an enhanced vocabulary in the language of photography.   

 



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  • Dale Wilson on

    I’m not sure what a waltz is, Wayne, but I can assure you wet plater’s dance to a different beat: one thousand and one; one thousand and two; one thousand and fifteen…

  • Wayne Simon on

    I don’t know if it is right for me but you make a few good suggestions and you are correct about what many do jumping head first with a fist full of dollars only to be disappointed in the results. It’s like dancing. You may know that a waltz is one, two, three, but your feet have to become use to the rhythm and movement. You have to realize you will trip a few times before you become proficient. Dancing is not my thing in any case…lol.


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