Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Old School For The New School

David Willis Published in Advanced Camera Technique
The resurgence of wet-plate photography among young photographers is about reconnecting with the process, as well as seeing the results. Wet-plate imagery is distinctive, and there are elements of art and craft through all aspects of creating the image. Opening spread: A portrait by Ellen Susan.
The resurgence of wet-plate photography among young photographers is about reconnecting with the process, as well as seeing the results. Wet-plate imagery is distinctive, and there are elements of art and craft through all aspects of creating the image. Opening spread: A portrait by Ellen Susan.
This is your large, glass-plate ambrotype negative, and after the varnish has dried overnight, the plate can be used for prints. In the past, this most commonly was performed to albumen paper, which also can be handmade by soaking paper in a solution of egg whites and chloride. It must be dried and then floated once more in a tray of silver nitrate so that silver chloride coats the paper. The paper is dried once more and then placed in direct contact with the ambrotype negative in a frame and exposed to sunlight where it will develop as you watch. Wash it in water once you're satisfied with the exposure. Finally, the print is fixed in sodium thiosulfate and washed one last time.

Positive glass-plate ambrotypes and tintypes largely follow the same process, only potassium cyanide is preferred as a fixing agent because silver particles look brighter against the background.

Taking A Wet Plate To Digital

There are several methods for making a digital copy of completed wet-plate negatives and positives, including flatbed scanners. Other methods require stripping of the collodion image and transferring it to paper or other substrates. While there are wet-plate simulations in Photoshop, most feel that the visceral organic quality to a wet-plate print is largely lost. There are a few methods for gaining digital versions of analog prints, however. A flatbed scanner with a lot of resolution is the most popular option, while the negative and positive glass plates also allow you to print large paper contact sheets for scanning, as well.

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