Transcending Time: Modern Photographers Celebrate an 1850′s Process
Think back to a trip to an antique store where you perhaps saw Civil War era photographs capturing a stern-faced family standing very rigid and still. These images were likely wet plate (collodion) tintypes and are representative of the third photographic evolution developed by Frederick Scott Archer in 1850. As all great artistic processes, the wet plate process has transcended time and is alive at the hands of a few bold artists.
Denver-based artist, Quinn Jacobson, has been practicing wet plate photography for over a decade and estimates that there are approximately 50 people who know how to make collodion images in Colorado and several hundred nationally, but only a handful that are doing serious work. Quinn has developed three bodies of work and states of his passion for the process:
“Collodion’s unique esthetic gives a half-remembered dream quality evoking the feeling of memory. It’s hauntingly beautiful and reveals deep, poignant qualities about the people I photograph. It also allows me to interact with the sitter in ways traditional photography doesn’t. Because of the commitment (time, complexity and stubbornness) of the process, I feel that the sitter co-creates the image with me. In the end, it’s the co-creation that is the art. I consider the image evidence or residue of that interaction.”
There is a rise in the pursuit of the wet plate process, as proven by the feature in the May 2011 edition of National Geographic, which highlighted its use at a Civil War reenactment. Jacobson sees this rise firsthand as he receives 2-3 emails a month from people that are “struggling to find meaning in their digital work.” Since 2004, Jacobson has been offering wet plate seminars at his lab and gallery, Studio Q. In regards to the application of wet plate photography in Civil War re-enactments, though fitting to its era of innovation, is separate from the kind of work being done by Jacobson and many others. Jacobson states, “I’ve played a role in giving artists a chance to work in these processes. In other words, artists have found a new way to express themselves through the process and it has nothing to do with re-enactment or wars.”
In wet plate photography either tin plates or glass plates are used. When glass plates are used in the wet plate process they are called ambrotypes. The root “ambro” comes from the Greek, meaning immortal. According to Gunnison-based photographer, Jeff Michalek, “Though they are not guaranteed for all eternity, the glass plates created in the mid-1800s are still in tact and show little or no degradation.” A worthy investment, indeed.
Michalek, a student of Jacobson’s, will showcase his first collodion body of work in conjunction with the Creede Repertory Theatre’s comedy Harry the Great at the Lone Tree Arts Center. Pairing the wet plate process from 1850 with John Di Antonio’s timepiece Harry the Great, which takes place during the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, resulted in an experience and finished pieces that “surpassed everyone’s expectations.” The icing on the cake is that the wet plate process is a magical process to watch unfold and Harry the Great is a “romantic comedy about magicians, their egos, and why you never, ever reveal how it’s done.” For gallery hours or to purchase show tickets, visit Lone Tree Arts Center. The show will hang from November 1-11. A must see if any of these images have piqued your curiosity!