Wet-plate quality question.

Discussion in 'Alternative Processes' started by PHOTOTONE, Apr 26, 2009.

  1. PHOTOTONE

    PHOTOTONE Member

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    I've looked at lots of images from the civil war period shot on Wetplate. Thousands of images as published in photo books of the civil war, as well as I have books of Matthew Brady and Alexander Gardner.

    The coating of the collodion appears to be smooth and even.

    Many, many modern wet-plate images appear to have coating defects, streaks, etc. Is this just an issue with technique? Or are the supplies different and not as easy to work now?

    If any of you check Shorpy photo on the internet they run a civil war era image several times a week, in addition to later vintage images. Of course you can see dust spots, and sometimes cracks in the original glass plate, but the "coating" appears to be consistent and fairly even.

    Just want opinions.
     
  2. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    Part of that is a matter of taste. Part of that is also that you're not seeing the actual edges of the plates. Just as you never see the amount of swirl people are using today in the out-of-focus-areas (OOFAs as I like to refer to them) that you get from Petzval design lenses - historically, only the sharp center of the image circle was used, so many lenses that will evenly illuminate an area as much as 8x10 were only used for half-plate or smaller. I think it's mostly a matter of taste- folks today are intentionally making sloppy pours and exercising sloppy development technique to give those blotchy, streaky effects, to emphasize the hand-made quality of the plates. Kind of a neo-pictorialism/neo-arts-and-crafts-ism.
     
  3. bill schwab

    bill schwab Advertiser Advertiser

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    I agree with Scott in that it is somewhat fashionable now to "show your work", but I'm also inclined to believe a lot of it is just plain experience as far as quality of the pour. I know it is in my case! Where it was fun and expressive at the start to be intentionally sloppy, personally I'm striving for something a little cleaner these days. Kerik Kouklis pours some of the more clean plates these days in my opinion. Although the plate I've linked to has the Petzval Swirl mentioned by Scott, it is a pretty perfect plate technically. I think it takes the experience of hundreds and in many cases, thousands of plates to get as good as a lot of the photographers that worked in the process in its heyday. Photographers from the day would look at today's work and think it incomplete and amateurish in technigue. Using only the sweet spot of the lens and perfect pours was their way of attaining the technical "perfection" we enjoy with modern photography, whereas a lot of the modern wet plate work made today is, in my opinion, partly a reaction to the push button "perfection" commonplace today.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 26, 2009
  4. smieglitz

    smieglitz Member

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    I believe part of the reason was the sheer quantity of plates produced by the individuals. The original wetplaters did it for a living and had to be good. Now we have weekend wetplaters. I know it takes me awhile to get back into the groove. The quicker and more prolific I am with any given batch of chemistry, the better are the pours.

    The original wetplate cameras also had dedicated plate holders and camera backs. Today, many wetplaters are using converted film or dryplate holders, and that can cause some of the problems that crop up (rubs from the darkslide, oysters, etc.). Another equipment-related aspect is that a lot of contemporary wetplaters are using much larger plates (usually with the lenses intended for smaller plate use as Scott has related). More surface area provides a lot more opportunity for flaws to occur. Pouring bigger plates generally involves more and thinner chemistry. Pouring a 10x12 is so much harder than a quarter-plate. Yet, the old USGS wetplate photographers routinely made 18x22 mammoth plates with apparent ease in the field. That's so very humbling...

    There are some real contemporary masters whose work doesn't exhibit the flaws you refer to in others' work. People like Bob Szabo, Mark and France Osterman, and John Coffer immediately come to mind.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 28, 2009