A dumb wet plate collodian quesiton.

Discussion in 'Alternative Processes' started by John Simmons, Nov 6, 2007.

  1. John Simmons

    John Simmons Member

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    Ok, please pardon my ignorance of this process and what may seem like a silly question.

    I have seen quite a bit of beautiful wet plate work over the last year and I am curious about something. Why not shoot a normal negative with 4x5, 120, 35mm, etc. and fashion an old style lens on an enlarger (to achieve some of the same effects that you get by shooting a in camera wet plate) and just expose the wet plate in the darkroom under the enlarger.

    Can this be done?.... Now I do understand that part of the enjoyment is working the way people did long ago with the 8x10 camera, exposing the wet plate in the field etc... but would my idea work and if so..has anyone tried it.

    Thanks.

    Regards,
    John
     
  2. bill schwab

    bill schwab Advertiser Advertiser

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    John, It can be done as evidenced by the following link...

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/dce/1528642245/

    However, part of the beauty is the way the collodion responds to natural light and it's color sensitivity. You would also have to make your negative into a positive before the projecting it in your enlarger. I am not sure how it responds to incandescent light either. There are others more knowledgable that I am sure will jump in here.

    Bill
     
  3. Kerik

    Kerik Member

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    I had someone attend a workshop earlier this year in Philadelphia. She had previously done the Rockaloid "tintypes" under an enlarger using (I think) digitally-created positive transparencies. She tried the same thing during the workshop using real tintype materials (i.e. collodion). It worked very well!
     
  4. John Simmons

    John Simmons Member

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    Thanks Bill and Kerik, so basically I could shoot normal film and use a process like DR5 to create a transparency positive, Stick it in the enlarger and print like normal.

    Any idea what the speed of a wet plate is under an enlarger?

    Thanks for you help guys.

    Regards,
    John
     
  5. Allen Friday

    Allen Friday Member

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    I have made wet plates from color slides using an enlarger. I shoot neutral, non-saturated, color slides and then enlarge onto the wet plates, either glass or aluminum. I think I still have one in my APUG gallery.

    I use a UV light source, however. For enlarging a 4x5 slide to an 8x10 wet plate, I get an exposure of 8 seconds at f11. But again, that is with a UV light source. I don't know that a regular light source will work for traditional wet plate, I've never tried it.

    Allen
     
  6. Kerik

    Kerik Member

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    John,

    Collodion is a contrasty process, so your positives should work better if they are on the soft side. The person in my workshop was using an enlarger with a color head. As I recall, her exposures were in the 30 to 40 second range. I don't remember the f/stop, but the point is that it's definitely do-able.

    Allen - what enlarger are you using that has a UV light source?
     
  7. Allen Friday

    Allen Friday Member

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    Hi Kerik,

    I use the "Cold One", the UV head made by Photofusion. This was sold primarily for enlarging on AZO, but I have used it mainly for wet plates. It fits Omega enlargers, but I build an adapter and use it on my Zone VI enlarger.
     
  8. nicolai

    nicolai Member

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    I don't know anything about his process, but Phil Nesmith has made some great ambrotypes from images he shot on digital.
     
  9. davido

    davido Subscriber

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    Nicolai, I checked out Phil Nesmith's website and it's really interesting stuff. However, the process he uses is called Ferrotype process which is a close cousin to the tintype (although it's printed on iron instead of tin). Like the wet-plate collodion, the Ambrotype is printed on glass, which is either dark or clear and then painted black over the emulsion after processing.
    I took a workshop in Ambrotypes and we used enlargers to expose the plates. It's a good to way to start with the process and it also allows one to use images which would be impossible to get with a wet plate in camera (as the emulsion is so slow).
    The speed of a wet plate is typically wide open (F2.8) and around 60 seconds (as a starting point). Our workshop instructor, Rob Norton has done some interesting modern images with this older process: http://robnorton.ca/

    david
     
  10. davido

    davido Subscriber

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    John,
    I forgot to mention that the ambrotype exposure times given were for a condenser enlarger.
    Also, I used a number of images from B&W transparencies ( processed at DR5) for the Ambrotype workshop and they worked very well. I found it better to use images with lower contrast range as the process creates a certain amount of contrast.
    david
     
  11. RobertP

    RobertP Subscriber

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    F 2.8 at 60 seconds? Where was he shooting.. in a closet? I shoot a replica old tailboard with an 1861 Jamin Darlot lens ( around f4 wide open) and can shoot 2 sec of faster ( In the sunshine) on a normal lit day. I'm doing in studio with 5000K fluorescents and doing 12-14 sec. exposures.
     
  12. davido

    davido Subscriber

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    Robert, I guess I wasn't clear enough. The wet-plates were exposed under an enlarger. therefore, wide open for 60 seconds.
    david
     
  13. Kerik

    Kerik Member

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    To clarify... Ferrotype = Tintype. Same thing. Ambrotypes are done on glass, either clear with dark backing or dark glass or opaque black glass. Modern day wet plate artists often use aluminum with a black enamel coating on one side rather than the traditional "japanned" tin. Collodion negatives are made on clear glass. All of these processes are very similar except for the substrate and relatively minor changes to chemistry, exposure and development techniques.
     
  14. smieglitz

    smieglitz Subscriber

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    None for me. Thanks.

    Well, personally, I don't understand why anyone would actually want to do this. It strikes me as analogous to the difference between full-tilt alla prima painting in oils vs. using a paint-by-numbers kit.

    The uniqueness of an ambrotype or tintype is one of its hallmarks. Enlarging film to an ambrotype/ferrotype strikes me as a violation of the medium.

    Now a salt print or albumen print from a collodion negative seems a good marriage. But going the other direction just seems wrong to me. Ultimately, any argument here probably reduces to the image is everything vs. process debate. And I'm a process guy. Acros to ambros? No, thanks.

    In my mind, this enlargement to collodion thing seems to me very much like making duplicate or digital negatives for platinum printing or some other alternative process after the fact. As in "Hmm, I wonder if this image would make a good Pt print?" If you don't start out thinking the image before the camera will be a great ____ print, then something will not be quite right with it. And if so, then what's the point? Post-visualization doesn't give the same result as pre-visualization. Something originally envisioned as a silverprint probably isn't going to make a good platinum print. An ambrotype translated to inkjet is a poor poseur and I suspect I'd feel the same way viewing a film-to-collodion plate. One might be able to refine the image/digineg/dupe in the darkroom/computer until it's technically perfect and will print mechanistically with ease, but IME that sucks the soul out of it. And to me, collodion is soulful, literally ethereal.

    And this is not to say wonderful things can't be done post-visualization or in combination. Hell, look at Gandolfi's stuff. Exquisite. I want him to adopt me. I just don't or haven't seen how this approach would work well with film to collodion. YMMV.

    Time suffuses an ambrotype or ferrotype. But the exposure of an original image contains a different kind of time than that present/required in an enlargement or copy. One is fluid and sensate, the other mechanical. I've never given an enlargement X amount of time and thought/felt "that's right." But that happens a lot when doing an in-camera plate. Does that make any sense? (Wish I could come up with a different word there, but I can't find one that conveys the same meaning.) The image that an in-camera collodion plate captures is not static, at least not like the instantaneous snapshot. Not even if you clamp the wild-eyed subject in place. They blink. They breathe. Trees whisper. Waters undulate. The collodion camera image is built over time. If you start with an image on film, there is a stasis there built-in. Exposure can build but the image isn't going to have the same time quality. An enlargement happens in a moment (however extended that moment is made by the lens and lamp) and is fixed in quality. It is either going to be right or wrong. An in-camera plate of an object or view in front of the lens interacts with the subject over time. Collodion captures ghosts. I don't think you can transfer that to an enlargement or mimic.
     
  15. smieglitz

    smieglitz Subscriber

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    And another thing: I like the fact that wetplate gets me out in the field and away from enlarging. Why would I negate that and head back into the the darkroom to print on a collodion plate?

    Enlarging is so 20th-Century.
     
  16. Ty G

    Ty G Guest

    Very well said Joe.
    I'm a purist when it comes to wetplate. I do it totally 19th century, including japanned plates. The concept of mixing past and present technologies for sake of "art" doesn't make sense when it comes to wetplate. It is so much about the experience as well as the result. I don't ever see any of those model T club drivers installing a hemi in a 1920 Model T; 'kinda blows the point.

    Ty Guillory
    www.tystintypes.com
     
  17. PHOTOTONE

    PHOTOTONE Member

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    I feel the same way you do. However there is no reason to not try to use traditional materials in non-traditional ways to create NEW artforms, if that is what you are interested in. It is just not a substitute for the real original artform. Some people DO put "hemi's" in Model T's. I am not one of them, but I recognize that they exist.
     
  18. RobertP

    RobertP Subscriber

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    David, My apologies, you were perfectly clear about your exposures. It was failure to read your post properly that caused me to misunderstand. When projection printing onto a wetplate are you losing resolution and introducing grain into the image as opposed (or compared) to an image made in-camera? Robert
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 9, 2007
  19. philnesmith.com

    philnesmith.com Member

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    Why?

    The question was why would anyone want to do this. I cannot speak to anyone else, but since my work was brought up in this thread I thought that I would answer.

    My main project currently is a body of my memories of Baghdad Iraq. Having photographed in both Sarajevo Bosnia in 1995/96 and in Iraq, I have to say that using authentic wet plate process (or any large format process) would not work for the envifonments that I was in. I was with soldiers on the move and did nto have the space, time, or security to deal with being "authentic".

    The second part of my work is about blurring historic lines both in photography history as well as that of armed conflict. By starting with digital capture I was able to have working freedom on the battle field, and start with cutting edge technology that I would later use to make a physical photographic object that would move the viewer back in time.

    Although my site was made and show "ferrotypes" (both wet and dry plate) that I have made, the final product of my Iraq project is infact contemporary dry plate ambrotypes (gelatin based emulsion on black glass) at 8x12". This work will be on exhibit at Irvine Contemporary in Washington DC starting Jan12th if you would like to see the work in person.

    I am not a reenactor so I do not care about being being pure to the history of the processes that I use.

    Care to know what I will be doing after the Iraq show. I am heading out of the darkroom to begin work on a project making true 12x20" in camera wet-plate ferrotypes and ambrotypes. From that statement alone you should know that the work will be taking place in a peaceful environment :smile:

    Dry, wet, in camrea, enlargment, projection, who cares? Make art and explore the world.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 13, 2007
  20. stormbytes

    stormbytes Member

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    I have to agree with the poster above me -

    To suggest that combining mediums is somehow "wrong" - ethically or otherwise, is entirely unfounded and at the very least close minded. We find ourselves in the 21st century. Mediums evolve and combining the best of all, past and present, merely furthers art, in no way detracting from its value or substance.

    I disagree with Smieglitz. Pre-visualization is, at its very core, the essence of "mechanical". It relies on sets of tested constants; negative densities, paper type/grade and the like. How could anyone "pre-visualize" the way a scene would print unless they tested and standardized their process to a fault!? Is that not the essence of a "mechanical process"? To suggest that replacing conventional paper with collodion plates somehow undermines an element of the creative process is as absurd as saying the Zone system only works with a specific brand of paper or developer. Furthermore, the perceived qualitative randomness of wet-plate photographs is in no way intentional (at least not by conception) but rather a limitation of the process itself! Had photographers 130 years ago been able to achieve the esthetic homogeneity of modern prints do you think any would renounce the process as being overly "mechanical" ? I think not.

    In short, like the poster above me concludes. It's not necessarily the medium but the results that makes art. So quit harping on the ethics of it. Go out and do what works for YOU.
     
  21. davido

    davido Subscriber

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    Hear, Hear! Very well put Daniel.
    -david


     
  22. smieglitz

    smieglitz Subscriber

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    And I'll repeat myself: "Ultimately, any argument here probably reduces to the image is everything vs. process debate."

    Perhaps. But, I will again insist that pre-visualization ≠ post-visualization. Something envisioned as a silverprint probably isn't going to make a good platinum print no matter how much testing one does beforehand. IME, I have never seen a photographic work look equally good in two different media. If you have an example (by anyone) that shows otherwise, I'd love to see it.

    Wetplate collodion fell out of favor because it was inconvenient and somewhat dangerous, not because of any aesthetic shortcoming. It remains one of the most beautiful imaging processes. It has no need to "evolve" as far as I am concerned. (That's an opinion, BTW. Not an edict.)

    Regarding intentional qualitative randomness, that seems to be one of the liberating and serendipitous aspects of the medium many wetplate artists embrace rather than "a limitation of the process itself." Witness Sally Mann, Matt Larkin, etc.

    You address the rational, analytical aspect of process in your reply. However, I'm coming from a more visceral and soulful perspective. For me, it feels wrong. And, I have the personal experience to make that statement. That still allows for others to consider it differently. As I said in my original post : "And this is not to say wonderful things can't be done post-visualization or in combination... I just don't or haven't seen how this approach would work well with film to collodion. YMMV."
     
  23. Neil Miller

    Neil Miller Member

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    I'm afraid I agree with Phil and Daniel.

    The substrates, coatings and associated paraphenalia are just tools to me - if something feels right, why not do it, to paraphrase Joe. Living in another age doesn't interest me - I'm here and now. Re-enactment does nothing for me, nor does the thought of trudging around with a ton of gear or in a horse drawn wagon, but if it works for someone else then I'm not going to knock it. Each to his own.

    I love the randomness of wetplate, but agree with Daniel that it is its very randomness that is so appealing. If it could be controlled, I don't think it would impact on me in the same way. However, I seldom see it acknowledged that these things that appeal to the modern eye had quite the opposite impact on the original practitioners - reading through a sample of their works shows that most (if not all) went out of their way to avoid these imperfections. Indeed, there are some wetplate photographers today whose work is perfection - the random elements totally overcome. But they are the exception. Usually you see images rendered in some medium or other with a lot of technical merit and skill in using the medium, but absolutely no merit (in my eyes) as far as the image itself is concerned. I think that the image is everything - being clever at using a technique doesn't really count for much as far as I am concerned. In fact I find it rather tedious.

    I can't help but smile when I read about 'purists' - I guess they are as purist as far as they are prepared to go. Some have travelling darkrooms powered by that new-fangled infernal combustion engine, some use modern gear, some use old lenses on modern bodies, some japan with materials bought over the counter, some think aluminium is a better alternative than tin for tintypes, some fashion baths out of plexiglass, some use LEDs as safelights, some mimic period holders with brass sprayed with gold paint and boxes made of acrylic, etc, etc, etc. I'm not saying it's wrong of course, merely pointing out you can't be completely purist unless you have some sort of time machine.

    Just my opinion.
    Neil.