The wet plate collodion photography process was invented in 1851. The process became very popular and widely used from the 1860s to the 1880s before being replaced by more practical and efficient methods.

The wet plate collodion process involves coating a substrate (I use either glass or trophy aluminium) with collodion. This plate is then placed in a silver nitrate bath that makes the plate light sensitive, and so must be handled in the dark. The plate is then placed in a special holder that slides into the back of the camera and the photograph is taken. The plate is removed from the camera holder in the dark and covered in a developing chemical. It is then washed in water, then placed in a fixing chemical to make the image permanent. The plate is then washed again, allowed to dry and then coated with a varnish or wax to protect it.

The entire process from coating with collodion to developing the image has to be completed before the chemicals dry on the plate. Hence the name ‘wet plate’ as the plate cannot be allowed to dry before being developed. This gives about 10 minutes working time. It is possible to take all the chemicals, water, plates etc and a portable lightproof tent on location, but I solely work in a studio next to a darkroom.

One of the disadvantages of the process is that the collodion plates are not very light sensitive. Consequently, I find my exposure times are usually between 5 and 12 seconds depending on the lighting conditions. This means that the model needs to keep extremely still for the duration of the exposure as any movement will result in a blurred image.

Each plate produced is unique, and all have a look and aesthetic that is mesmerising and beautiful. And perfect for the tarot I want to produce.


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