What is Wet Plate Collodion Photography?

Collodion

The substance Plain U.S.P Collodion is the main part of the chemistry mix used as a carrier for the light-sensitive layer on the plate.

Plain Collodion is a mixture of raw cotton (which has been treated with nitric and sulfuric acids) dissolved in ether and alcohol. Its generic name is Pyroxylin solution. As it dries you’re left with a celluloid kind of clear film which in the second world war was used to cover up wounds. In photography the collodion is meant to stick to a piece of glass to hold the silver nitrate which is used to sensitize the plate.

The Process

In 1851, Frederick Scott Archer introduced a wet plate process. The process is very simple in concept: bromide, iodide or chloride salts were dissolved in plain Collodion. This mixture was poured onto a cleaned glass plate, and allowed to sit for a few seconds. The plate was then placed into a solution of silver nitrate and water, which would convert the iodide, bromide or chloride salts to silver iodide, bromide or chloride, respectively. Once this reaction was complete, the plate was removed from the silver nitrate solution, and exposed in a camera while still wet. It was developed with a solution of iron sulfate, acetic acid and alcohol in water.

Until the 1880’s wet plate was common practice. After that dry plates came along with greater user friendly abilities and soon wet plate got pushed to the background. However, many artists today around the world use this process, of which one of the most famous has to be Sally Mann.

Purpose of this blog

The purpose of this blog for me is to have a place where I can outline the progressions in the process over time. To share my findings, to have people come in contact with this beautiful process, to provide them with links where to find supplies, teachers, a forum board, in other words; to help spreading the knowledge and keeping it preserved for the future.

This blog is also meant to display my work, to share things that I find interesting and intriguing, to show exhibitions I visited which impressed me and so on. I hope you enjoy it!

Analogue is anything but dead!

Image made by Quinn Jacobson in Bièvres, France 2009

Black Ambrotype made by Quinn Jacobson in Bièvres, France 2009

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2 responses

  1. Indra,
    I’ll swap links on my blog for one of mine.
    Also, in the wet plate history, I think you might want to change “Wet plate was common until 1980” to 1880.

    Bruce

    September 7, 2009 at 14:29

    • Hi Bruce,
      What link would you like me to put on the page, one to your personal web page or your blog?
      Thank you for your comment regarding my mistyping of the date…makes for quite a difference 😉

      Indra

      September 7, 2009 at 18:46

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