Wet Plate Collodion

It's always good to try something a little different from time to time, and it doesn't get much more different than today's foray into the world of wet plate colloidon photography.

I've been tinkering with pinhole photography for a few years now, and love the old-school nature of the beast. Everything from setting up the shot to the inherent "flaws" in the resultant images make for an image, and a process, that's just a little bit magic. Wet plate takes all the variables, the difficulties and black-magic involved and then multiplies it exponentially.

Though pinhole isn't exactly easy, it's something that anyone can pick up and get half-way decent results from pretty quickly. After today's session I can completely believe David Gillanders when he says that it took him years to feel like he was getting there with Collodion.

David has been shooting with this process for over 12 years now, and when you look at his work it's a thing of genuine beauty. When you look it after spending a day in his studio with him helping you make your own first wet plate image the impact of his work is tempered with a slight awe that he's managed to manipulate such a quirky, temperamental (dare I say archaic?) process to achieve it. 

He has to prepare the photographic plate in the dark room and then expose the plate within a few minutes in the studio before returning to the dark room again to process it immediately. That he can do this and maintain a rapport with his subjects says a lot about the man, and that's borne out if you look a little deeper into his other work. Some of you may have seen his recent BBC documentary on knife crime in Glasgow: a stunning film that reprises a stills project that he carried out on the streets and in the hospitals of Glasgow around 10 years ago.

Around the studio there are also a few landscapes that he's shot with the same process, converting the back of his van into a mobile dark room. It's difficult enough in the studio...

The mind boggles to think that this was all once essentially the cutting edge of photography. I think I have left with a new-found respect for those that founded the craft back in the day, as well as those that keep the traditional processes alive.

I also left with the one plate that I made myself. David was gracious enough to sit for me in front of his own camera while I fumbled into his world just briefly.

David Gillanders in his own Glasgow studio

If you've ever had even the slightest inclination to try an alternative photographic process I'd recommend giving David a call and talking to him about joining one of his workshops. You'll never look at your camera phone in quite the same way afterwards.