Wet Plate Collodion Introduction Workshop with Alastair Cook

posted in: Large Format, Wet Plate Collodion | 0

Back in July of last year I attended a brilliant afternoon Wet Plate Collodion introduction workshop by Alastair Cook. I had been keen to explore wet plate collodion photography, especially after seeing the results in the flesh at Alastair’s exhibition. When I heard he was doing a workshop where we would learn how to do it and have a try too I jumped at the chance!

Alastair talked briefly on some of the types of wet plate photography; daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and ‘tintypes’ showing us some original examples and explaining the differences in the processes and the results.

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Some discussion about the equipment used for wet plate.
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Examples of where plates have gone ‘wrong’ and where they have gone ‘right’.
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Alastair talked us through the process and then performed a demonstration.
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Then we did our own, taking pictures of each other. I took one of Alastair first – we tried a 4s exposure. The light was fading and the result was quite dark but I absolutely love it! It’s a lot more interesting in the flesh, especially when held up close to a light; the picture fades in and out in an almost holographic way! Here is the scan:

My second picture was of Katherine and it was exposed for around 5.5s as the light was fading even more. The result was good!

Pouring the collodion was much easier than I expected it to be. There is a lot involved in mastering the techniques of holding, pouring, spreading evenly, etc. Holding the plate in the best hand, working safely without spilling and wasting. Handling the plate so as you don’t damage the plate or ruin the application of the collodion and silver nitrate. It is an extremely hands on process and subsequently really rewarding when you see a great result.

Here is a brief list of tasks required to make a ‘tintype’:
Coat the plate with collodion
Place the plate into the silver nitrate bath (lights off)
Silver nitrate for 3 minutes
Set up camera and subject – compose and focus
Back to the plate, remove from silver nitrate bath and then dry back of plate
Place into plate holder and insert dark slide
Hold vertically and remember which side has the plate in it!
Check focus of camera
Insert into camera
Hold lens cap in front of lens, remove dark slide, make sure subject is ready
Remove lens cap and count the seconds
Replace lens cap and dark slide
Take plate holder back into the darkroom
Remove the plate from the holder
Pour a small amount of developer onto the plate and allow it to cover the plate
Shake the plate to move the developer around
Develop for 10s then rinse with water to stop
Place into the fixer (Ilford Rapid Fixer) and then turn on the lights
Watch the image appear – it’s like magic!!

One of the best photographic experiences I’ve had. Half a year later and I have nearly everything I need to start doing wet plate myself. More on that soon!!

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