Protected Injuries

Frederick Scott Archer, developer of the wet collodion photographic process, wrote the following in 1854 for his pamphlet on the process:

“The collodion picture, either positive or negative, will require to be varnished, to protect it from injury.  I find that white lac varnish is the best for this purpose; the precaution necessary in using it is, that the plate should be gently warmed previously to pouring on the varnish, and after it is drained off, again warming the plate to assist in drying it quickly.”

“This varnish gives a hard and transparent coating to the picture, giving it great brilliancy and depth.”

I have posted on this blog in the past about varnishing.  It is really the only step in the process of making wet collodion images that I have specifically highlighted I believe.  I am not sure why this happens to be, other than it is my favorite action.  The vapors, the flame dancing on the spirit lamp, the glossy appearance of the applied varnish, all play a part in the intoxicating ceremony.  Archer says the varnish is used to protect the image from injury, I use it to protect the injuries.  For me it is the injuries that add the most “brilliancy and depth” to the image.  Something perfect is to not be trusted.  Even my varnish is not flawless.  I WANT you to know that the THING that you are experiencing was made with shaking hands, and a dripping brow.

Recently I varnished over 55 plates, mostly ambrotypes, but I also worked a few tintypes that I had been putting off for a very long time.  The majority of the plates were from the Gulf expedition and with their shining coats of vintage formula varnish were made ready  for a date with the framer to be dressed for the opening of Flow on September 11th.

This is the time in my workflow when the weight lifts from my shoulders.  The final movements before the curtain opens to expose the relics of my existence.  This is the time when I turn inward and contemplate how I got to this moment.  I am drawn to using the wet collodion photographic process, and those related, to create deliberate transmission devices.  Each step, each formula mixed, each glass edge ground, and liquid poured, each exposure, each mile driven, each drop of sweat, each finger print, each individual movement, and the unforeseen accidents, each action a deliberate element of the whole.  Each task and choice like the steps along a path which circles back upon itself.  It is not the unattainable destination of the endless path that is important, but the observation of the continually changing environment  which the path traverses.


~ by Phil Nesmith on August 17, 2010.

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