What do you do when
your favorite film stock
Make your own.
I make my own film using a chemistry technique that predates film called wet plate collodion.
It's quite simple, you just have to try be perfect.
And then accept the inevitable flaws.
This is a brief overview of the picture making process and a study of the beautiful flaws that result from being human.
Pour the chemical “film” onto a large plate of metal or glass
My camera shoots plates that are either 4x5 or 5x7 inches.
I usually shoot on black coated sheets of aluminum known as “Tin Types”.
Historically tin cans were flattened to make these plates.
When shot on metal, the final image comes directly out of the camera.
This process is the nineteenth century equivalent of a Polaroid.
There is a lot of art and technique to this step.
Any imperfections that form during the pour can affect the outcome.
Debris, bubbles, and uneven ridges are common flaws that can occur during this step.
Sensitize the emulsion by soaking the plate in a solution of silver nitrate.
This solution is easy to make, but extremely challenging to maintain.
Rigid maintenance and documentation is essential to create an image with sufficient contrast.
When done properly, this technique delivers a “grain free” image.
During the photographic process, this step is fairly simple.
However, precise timing and a completely lightproof environment are mandatory.
The signs of trouble in this chemistry can make some very unique marks on the image.
Expose the film, creating the desired image.
Hold still. This process is extremely slow.
It takes anywhere between 2 - 60 seconds to capture a proper exposure.
When this process was published and widely distributed in the 1840’s, cameras were large and required extremely stable tripods.
In order to focus the image, the photographer uses a dark cloth and a loupe to make hundreds of different adjustments to the camera.
It takes an hour long portrait session to yield a single image.
Incidentally, the process forces the artists to be very deliberate in every aspect of the composition.
Immediately return to the darkroom to hand develop the plate.
A steady wrist and rigid process discipline is essential.
You have to pour the developer agent by hand quickly and smoothly across the plate.
Arresting the development at the right time is another critical part of the ritual.
Any drip, spill, or bump can cause contamination or wear on the emulsion.
The image making process is initially nerve-wracking.
Meditation and mindfulness are a large part of my image making practice for two reasons.
Firstly to create a space to collaborate with my subjects.
While also attending to all the mechanical, chemical, and lighting details.
Fix the plate in a solution of potassium cyanid, resolving a clear image.
Once the plate has been developed, it is no longer photosensitive.
In the clear light of day, you can see the formation of the image.
The images appear inverted, blueish, and milky until you dissolve the unused silver halides.
This is my favorite part.
After a thorough rinse, dry, and heating — the plate is varnished.
If done properly, these photo artifacts can last for hundreds of years.
Tragically, this step has the possibility of ruining a perfectly good image.
I’m still learning.
By studying the flaws present in the final image, I’m able to discover imperfections in my process.
I’m constantly honing my skills by understanding my mistakes with a non-judgmental mentality.