On The Road

For the past week I was in central Tennessee to visit with my father, my first trip back this year. I took this opportunity to take my wet-plate rigs on the road to test out the darkbox (see the box and shroud behind the reenactment photographer above) that I had thrown together (with a major component, the shroud, assembled by my wife).

For those not initiated into the world of wet-plate photography, it is so called because the chemicals on the plate (glass or metal) must stay damp/wet while the exposure is being made in the camera. This is because if the collodion is allowed to try it will no longer be sensitive to light. Collodion photography is not, to borrow a term from the military, “fire and forget” because it must be processed on site. The collodion photographer must have a darkroom/box/tent within a few minutes of the camera location.

Although nothing like the transportation requirements of Roger Fenton, Alexander Gardner or Timothy O’Sullivan my modern version darkbox, two cameras, one tripod, chemicals and supplies did fill my wifes Scion to the point that it was a good thing that she had to work and could not make the trip. There was not room for everything in the car once my small daypack of clothes were thrown in. The effort required to travel with the collodion process makes one see how special those historic images from the 1800s like O’Sullivan’s Canyon de Chelle (as only one example) really are. I know that the extra effort made the few plates I made in Tennessee just a bit more valuable to me, I guess you could say they have a bit of “sweat equity” in them.

** Note: The image of the period actors above is by an unknown photographer. If anyone knows the originator of the image please let me know so I can give proper credit. **


~ by Phil Nesmith on August 3, 2008.

%d bloggers like this: