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Luo Dan: Simple Song and Wet Plate Collodion

Luo Dan, worked as a photojournalist for several years before he became disillusioned with modern media. He ditched his digital camera and took to the road trying to capture the people and practices of modern China, his latest journey took him to a remote mountainous village where he used a photographic process over a hundred years old.

Photo via Luo Dan

Luo Dan was born in China in 1968 and is currently working as a freelance documentary photography in Chengdu. He graduated from the Sichuan Fine Art Institute in 1992, then worked as a photojournalist between 1997 and 2006. Dan however had become disillusioned with modern consumer society, which led him to quit his newspaper job. Being inspired by beat writers, such as Jack Kerouac, he drove across China from Shanghai to Lhasa, Highway 318.

On his cross country journey, he photographed his experiences using a medium form camera, producing the photoseries “China Route 318.” In 2008, he again travelled the country to take photographs for his project “North, South” in his attempt to document the implications of globalization on the country and its population.

His newest project called “Simple Song” takes an entirely different approach in both technique and subject. Dan traveled to the mountainous Nu River Valley, in the Western Yunnan Province of China. The majority of villages in this region were visited in the late 19th Century by Christian missionaries, with over 70% of the population still being Christian. Luo in fact took many of the photographs for “Simple Song” after Sunday mass with many people wearing their best church clothes.

Interestingly, “Simple Songs” implements a photographic process that originated in the 1850’s: the wet plate collodion process. The early photographic process was developed in 1851, but was principally only used until the 1880’s when it was succeeded by the far more convenient dry plate process. The wet plate collodion process has several drawbacks, the first being the number of chemicals that a photographer would have to take with them. This could include a combination of alcohol and ether, silver nitrate, acetic acid, and ferrous sulphate.

Once the collodion has been prepared and treated with light sensitive chemicals, it must still be developed when wet. This means that a darkroom must be extremely close or that a portable darkroom would need to be used. Luo Dan opted to take a portable darkroom with him due to the rural and mountainous nature of the project’s location. A further difficulty with wet plate collodion arises due to the light sensitivity of the collodion plate. The plates have quite a low light sensitivity which means that even when shooting outside in bright sunlight exposures can take up to a minute. This means that the subject must stay still throughout; this places obvious limitations on the number of photographs that can be taken and the situations that Luo Dan could take photographs. While Luo Dan lived in this region for six months, he produced less than a hundred photographs, although as mentioned his previous works produced thousands of images.

Luo Dan hoped to depict the people of this regions way of living and his use of old photographic techniques displaces the viewer’s sense of time. These photographs have a timelessness that means that they look like they could have easily been taken a hundred years ago, yet they were taken in 2010.

Information for this article were taken from Leap Leap Leap and Luo Dan Photo.

written by marthasmarvels

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