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Adventures in Wet-Plate

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by , 03-05-2008 at 04:07 PM (648 Views)
Well, I'm starting down the rabbit hole of wet-plate collodion. The first step was to take a course from Kerik Kouklis at his place outside Sacramento. That was a terrific experience- in the space of eight hours, I went from zero experience to having successfully made thirteen plates on black aluminum, clear glass, and black glass in both 5x7 and 8x10 plate sizes.

I came out of the class with a tremendous respect for the process and its practitioners both modern and historic, and a love for the process too. The biggest hurdles to success are not what everyone expects; mixing the chemistry requires little more than basic cooking and measuring skills, and a healthy respect for the chemicals involved. Coating plates can be learned easily; by my fourth plate I had achieved good, even coats with little spillage and no missed spots. The two biggest hurdles were actually learning exposure, and developing the plates.

Exposure has to be done by guesstimate - there is no blue/UV specific light meter that can tell you how to expose for collodion, and the relative speed of collodion changes with age, humidity, and a number of other factors. The easiest solution for beginners is just to overexpose - by shooting a lot of plates, you begin to learn what is really a good exposure and what is not, and you learn how to diagnose the various conditions that drive proper exposure time.

Development of the plate is best done by quickly pouring the developer over the surface of the plate, while holding the plate in your hand. You use a minimal amount of chemistry; just enough to cover the surface of the plate. Development time is somewhere in the range of 15-30 seconds, so you have to learn how to gauge what a sufficiently developed plate looks like. It does not look like a finished image; that only comes out in the fixer.

Having completed the class, I'm now set on doing my own wet-plate work at home. I'm ordering my chemistry now, and collecting the various supplies needed to start the process. I'll post another entry here to explain the trials, travails and gyrations (some with humorous effect) required to get all the stuff you need to do this process. That's all for now.




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