These are the resulting images from a workshop with Jonathan Keys and Paul Cordes at the Side Gallery in Newcastle Upon Tyne - even managed a touch of bokeh! The wet plate image was then digitized.
I recently attended a wet plate collodion workshop held at the Side Gallery in Newcastle Upon Tyne with Jonathan Keys and Paul Cordes.
The wet collodion process, also called the collodion process, is an early photographic technique invented by Frederick Scott Archer in 1851. This process involved adding a soluble iodide to a solution of collodion (cellulose nitrate) and coating a glass plate with the mixture.
In an improvised darkroom setup the plate was immersed in a solution of silver nitrate to form silver iodide. Taking care to slide the glass with a continuous motion into the solution, the glass plate was then placed into a wooden holder with a sliding panel after three minutes. The plate, which was still wet, was exposed in the camera. It was then developed by pouring a solution of pyrogallic acid over it and was fixed with a strong solution of sodium thiosulfate. The process produces a high level of detail and clarity.
The workshop was a real eye-opener for me. I have been wanting to make wet plate images for longer than I can remember. This workshop made a childhood dream come true.
Jonathan and Paul, who lead this workshop, are a unique combination of character, skill, infectious enthusiasm, talent, and knowledge.
The workshop kicked off with the usual introductions in a very laid back manner, then moved on to talk about the history of wet plate photography. We covered the following during the workshop:
- The wet plate camera
- Glass plate preparation
- Understanding the chemistry
- Pouring the collodion onto the glass
- Sensitizing the collodion
- Loading the camera
- Understanding exposure through modern and vintage lenses
- Developing the plate
- Sealing the plate for longevity
- Digitizing the plate
We made two wet plate collodion images each – the workshop had six members. We each took our turn to prepare the plate, take and develop an image, and finally finish the plate off. We had mini breaks in between. It was well-paced.
Preparing your own glass plate does involve a learning curve naturally, but it’s great fun.The thrill of seeing the image appear on the glass during a 10 to 15-second development time was priceless. I have developed my own film for many years but seeing an image appear onto the glass plate was something else entirely. The word I’d use to describe it best would be “magical.” Writing and thinking about that moment now makes me break out into a big smile.
Jonathan and Paul helped us through each stage in our wet plate journey, always talking us through what we needed to do. The duo was happy to answer any questions during the day, of which there were many!
The Side Gallery staff members Kerry and Dawn made the downtime in between shots relaxing with an excellent selection of biscuits and drinks in combination with charm and a relaxed accommodating manner. I hope the match funding for the Side Gallery comes together.
My very first wet plate collodion attempt thanks to the ever patient and awesome Lewis Latimer came out well. Even with a bit of bokeh in the head and shoulders shot!
Thanks one and all for a very inspiring day – I really enjoyed it. I’m thankful for the opportunity and I highly recommend everyone who’s interested to try it out for themselves. There’s nothing better than smelling the chemicals and having a hands-on experience from start to finish. It’s hugely satisfying and it’s in my top three all-time photography experiences to date.
Here is a selection of fake collodion wet plates which documents the wet plate collodion workshop, taken with the iPhone. As you can see, nothing beats the real thing!