12-12-2012 | 17.20
Long before Instagram's instant nostalgia, Photoshop filters and even before film, photography had to start somewhere, didn't it? Let's do a quick history lesson and go back to 1822 when French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce made his first heliograph. In 1826 he made the very first photo using a camera obscura "View from the Window at Le Gras". Instead of a fingertap on an iPhone, it took him a whopping eight hours to expose.
Not quite what we're used to, right? So next, Hercules Florence developed a process in 1832 which he called Photographie. But it wasn't until Louis Daguerre, a former partner of Niépce, released his formula for the Daguerrotype in 1839, when Henry Fox Talbot had invented calotype. Calotype creates negative images, a concept which John Herschel picked up for his cyanotype processes. He was the first to make glass negatives, late 1839.
So what, you ask? Well, this is around the time when Frederick Scott Archer reveals his wet plate collodion process (1851). This process can be divided in Ambrotype (positive image on glass), albumen (eggwhite) or salt paper printing and Ferrotype or Tintype (positive image on metal). Later, in 1884, it was George Eastman - yes, as in Eastman Kodak - who invented film to replace plate photography. But let's stay at wet plates and take a look at modern day examples.
You've probably been watching Breaking Bad's crank cooking process in the back of the RV, right? Well, meet Ian Ruther, the Mr. White of wet plate collodion. Ruther has taken a bunch of chemicals into a van and drives across the United States. He has turned the delivery van into a giant wet plate camera. The shots from his camera van result in extraordinary photographs. Go see the video, bottom right on this page.
Another favorite of mine is Joni Sternbach. Her best known body of work is SurfLand, a collection of Tintype photo's of surfers. There's a quite a high level of labor intensity in the wet plate process: First you mix up the chemicals, coat the metal sheet with collodion, dip it in silver nitrate, get it in the camera, expose it, develop it, fix it & wash it. That's why Sternbach's photographs are a unique mix of subject matter & technique and beautifully result in mysterious timelessness.
After seeing at this, you'd probably like your own, right? Well, if you'd like to try it yourself, I suggest you head over to Alternative Photography for many how-to's.
But why don't you make it easy on yourself and go to the second edition of Trouw's Night Bazaar? The the good people behind TinType Studio, Went & Navarro, will be showing you their love for wet plates. What started as a bit of an awkward hobby of theirs, has now become a ongoing project as a counterpart to their mostly digital lives.
So come to the Night Bazaar and perhaps you'll go home with your own wet plate. Don't forget to post it on Instagram!
Text: Martijn Savenije. Being a photographer and founder of copypasteculture, he enjoys the beauty of observation and discovery.