People keep asking me why bother making something as cumbersome as wet plate photographs, when you could just tweak a digital image file to LOOK like a wet plate photograph, and then print it with an inkjet printer…
Well, you can do a lot of things in Photoshop, and it’s easy and fun too. But if you’re a photographer, there is one thing, in my opinion, to keep in your mind: you can’t retract your promise to photography. By choosing to work with photographic materials and techniques you have committed yourself to work with some fundamental things like light, space and time. These elements are really conserved in your final work — that is why I like wet plate (and other alt-processes) so much… you can feel and hold those things in your hands, you have the plate that has actually seen this light and energy and is keeping it! (By the way, William Crawford‘s classic book on alternative processes has an excellent title: The Keepers of Light).
With a digital print you don’t have any commitments… it has lost its energy a long time ago — maybe it had it when the image was captured by the digital camera — which also has its ways to capture the energy — but the image is transformed and transmissed so long way, that there may not be much left of it after all conversions, compressions, equalizing and whatnot. With digital cameras people tend to get similar results — often it’s not them taking the pictures but rather letting the camera make decisions.
Don’t get me wrong — I don’t hate digicams. I use many myself, and I think they really are excellent tools on certain tasks. But to come to the original question of why not using digicam for capturing and Photoshop for emulating different processes, I have made two fake ambrotypes below. Here are the digital camera captures:
Old processes (like wet plate collodion) have some characteristic properties that are quite easily emulated in Photoshop; wet plate collodion typically was sensitive mostly to blue light – to simulate this in PS we can use only the blue color channel and discard the rest. Another typical feature is the long exposure, during which moving targets (flowing water, clouds, foliage in the wind) will render blurred. Also this can be simulated by PS’s blur filters and such.
Another feature is that these processes are often exposed on a large plate, and camera lenses for those plate sizes are greatly bigger than, say, in 35mm or digital cameras, also having much longer focal lengths for lenses. Due to this fact the depth of field of these long lenses is much shorter than in digicams. This is an important creative and expressive effect for photographers — almost impossible to simulate with consumer digicams.
The Ahlstrom Bridge (summer), Noormarkku, Finland. Fake Ambrotype.
The Ahlstrom Bridge (spring), Noormarkku, Finland. Fake Ambrotype.
Okay, they may look like wet plate photographs, but you really can’t call them that… maybe I can fool you on this web page and even with printed matters (if I call them “reproductions of wet plates”), but if you ask me to show the plates — and there are none — you can see how the energy captured by the digicam has lost. It’s not there in the unsubstantial web image, or on the inkjet paper any more…
Not convinced? Well, here’s to you then, a book of How to produce a cyanotype, wet plate collodion, Daguerrotype, or just about every other historic style of print – but without the mess.
Good luck! ðŸ˜‰
When visiting the Fox Talbot Museum in Lacock Abbey, England, I took a few pics of the famous southern gallery latticed window, which was the subject of the first paper negatives by Talbot.
The latticed window of Lacock Abbey; views from outside and inside.
One of Talbot’s “mousetrap” cameras that were used to photograph the window.
This is probably the first known negative of the latticed window…
…although this one, from 1835, may be the most well-known in the history of photography.
One more posting about the Eurobrom meeting — just can’t tell how lucky I am now that I have in my possession these two great prints from the print exchange… see?
A palladium print by Jacques Collet.
Pierre Monnereau‘s oilprint.
While in Paris we found two more exhibitions definitely worth seeing: Photography Not Art — Naturalism according to P.H. Emerson (1886-1895) at the MusÃ©e d’Orsay and Glass Memories by Quinn Jacobson at the Centre Iris.
The room of platinum prints by P. H. Emerson at the MusÃ©e d’Orsay. There was another room exhibiting also his photogravures — great examples of images that don’t need to be blown up large to be touching.
Very strong and personal collodion wet plate work at the Centre Iris…
…by Quinn Jacobson.
The second day of the Eurobrom meeting was spent at theÂ BiÃ¨vres International Photofair, an antique and second hand photographic fare, taking place on the first weekend of June every year.
Having drinks in the APA booth.
In BiÃ¨vres you can find everything in photography; from mammoth view cameras…
…to vintage film cameras and digital equipment.
All fully working cameras here.
Except for cameras, accessories, photographic prints, etc. there were shows of making prints (bromoil, etc.) and photographing wet plate collodion images.
Quinn Jacobson, with assistants, made wet plate portraits…
…that the sitters could have after processing.