Last night I attended an introductory demo of the wet collodion process at the Center for Alternative Photography in New York. Wet plate was the principle photographic process from the 1850's through the end of the 19th century. The process was used to sensitize metal plates to make tintypes, and glass plates to make ambrotypes. The solution is very cumbersome to apply because the collodion, which is the carrier for the light sensitive silver nitrate, needed to maintain its wet state during the entire process, including the taking and developing of the image. For landscape photographers this meant having a darkroom tent with them when they were out in the field.
|The Center for Alternative Photography in New York presents a variety of lectures, classes, and demos relating to older forms of photography.|
|The demo was conducted by Eric Taubman, founder of the Center. After a brief intro, Eric took us through a step-by-step demo of the entire process from coating the plate to taking and processing the image.|
|Collodion is poured onto the plate and any excess is drained off leaving a thin, even coating. From this point on the photographer has about three minutes to complete the entire picture taking process including processing the image while still wet.|
|In the dark the wet plate is dipped into a solution of silver nitrate to sensitize it.|
|The camera and subject are set up ahead of time in preparation for taking the photograph.|
|As soon as the plate is sensitized it is transferred to the camera and the photographer guesses from experience what exposure time to use. The exposure is very slow so any portrait subjects had to hold very still.|
|Developer is poured over the exposed plate in the darkroom. Developing takes only about 15 seconds, after which the plate is immediately rinsed in water to arrest the process.|
|Rinsing the plate after development. Once the plate is rinsed it is no longer light sensitive.|
|For added permanence, the plate is run through a fixer bath.|
|The finished plate is then put out to dry and after a day or so is coated with varnish to make it permanent and protect it from scratches.|
|Bottles of prepared collodion and developer.|
|A 19th century book, The Silver Sunbeam, describes early photographic processes including wet collodion.|
In addition to the courses, the Penumbra Tintype Portrait Studio is located on the same premises. You can arrange to drop by and for a very nominal fee ($75and up depending upon size) have your tintype portrait taken.
If you're really into early photographic processes, this place has a lot to offer.
All photos in the post were taken available light with a Fuji X-Pro1 using either the f/1.4 35mm lens or 18-55mm zoom. ISO was normally around 1600 except for the darkroom shots where I had to push it to 6400.