recent email: hey, why don’t YOU do wet plate?!

just got an email today and someone asked:  why don’t you do wet plate photography?

i had to think for a little while, not long and my answer was: because i really don’t need to.

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i was as a broke college student in the 1980s.  i took photography classes through the end of their numbered courses ( i think “photo 5” was the last one ) so i did 2 directed studies my last 2 semester ( last year ) of college.  in these self-designed classes i made an emulsion from scratch buying ingredients from chemical suppliers and i taught myself how to make, coat and develop dry plates.

there were photography books, mostly art history ones, some “how to identify a process” books, things like “keepers of the light” but no internet, no close knit community to ask questions and learn from, and no  one i knew had any idea or ideas of what i was supposed to do … i had a 1904 photography annual picked up at a book store that i used to thumb through from time to time.  it had recipes in it for developers fixers, old ads for cameras and supplies as well as recipes for emulsions … i bought small quantities of the materials i needed and pots from a 2nd hand store  and  mixed the few items together.  i had taken chemistry classes in high school so i was careful and didn’t blind myself … i cooked up an emulsion and it worked OK i guess, but it was expensive and time consuming (and something i had to do in the middle of the night when my room mates were asleep ).  that was when i learned about liquid light ( made by rockland colloid ).  it is emulsion in a bottle, and it ended up being what i used instead of my home brewed emulsion … and the man who answered the phone there was extremely helpful person  (he STILL answers the phone and he STILL is extremely helpful!)

i read about historical processes and binding agents used to stick things to glass  … and i bought a variety of things to experiment with.  i used collodion, varnish, albumen, cement and glues ..  none of them worked, or worked the way i wanted them to work.  i eventually realized the emulsion was gelatin based so i bought some unflavored knox gelatin and it worked great.  i coated plates not by free pouring but with a paint brush (foam) and got a thin coat which sometimes worked best.  i coated large and small pieces of glass, mostly window glass i found on the street on “trash day”  sometimes an image on each side and eventually made contact prints of the images  eventually i got bored with the whole making prints on glass thing, and drifted away from it but over the years i have  kept doing it in one way or another.  now it is 26 years later and i am still making dry plates and probably by the end of the year i will give up store bought ready-made emulsions and photo paper+film.  i suppose i could switch over to wet plate making.  there is less hassle ..  just plates collodion, a silver bath, developer and fixer.  its a simple process compared to dry plates.

but i don’t mind making dry plates, they are fun, and i don’t  have to process the plate immediately and feel rushed.

so, i don’t do wet plate, because  …  i’m having enough fun as it is ..

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these days it is not like 1987, you don’t have to do everything in isolation because now,

there is a website dedicated to making emulsions from scratch.  its called “the light farm”

http://www.thelightfarm.com/

there are great people there who are helpful, and know their “stuff”

i don’t really remember what emulsion i made in the middle of the night, september 1987, but i know which one i am going to make next ..its a sea water emulsion and it should be a lot of fun ..

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