How it all started

Wet plate collodion photography was invented in 1851 by the englishman Frederick Scott Archer. At least this is the general consensus. I will not dive into the history of the wet plate collodion process here, as it is covered in great detail by many much more knowledgeable people than me, on web sites, in books et cetera. If you are curious, please check out the links page. This page will tell you a bit about how I got hooked by this arcane photographic process.

Collodion and me

Looking for that »old« look

Around 2005 or mid 2006 I was into getting an »old« look to my photographs. I had recently gotten into large format photography, and was a rather hard core analogue photographer. The »new« digital photography was not for me, I reasoned. In my search for that old look, I learned a few things about photographic history and how the photographic technology has evolved. I started to understand that the look I was pursuing was a result of the old photographic emulsions being sensitive only to the blue part of the visible light spectrum. I also learned that at the dawn of photography, there was a process called wet plate collodion. And there were people still practising this art.

Why does it have to be so complicated?

The more I learned, the more I understood that wet plate collodion photography is rather complicated, and a process close to impossible to master. I think I got hooked on this, that there was a craft behind every part of making an image. From cleaning the plates, to mixing the chemistry (and obtaining it) and finally pouring the emulsion on the plate by hand—all of it something to be learned.

Off to the middle of nowhere

On the web I learn of a man, John Coffer, who has taught the wet plate collodion process for many years, and is considered one of the few modern masters of the craft. He lives in the midddle of New York state in the USA, outside a small town called Dundee, and his lifestyle is very much reminiscent of the photographers of the 1860s. I am a bit reluctant to travel all the way to »the middle of nowhere«, but my dear mother talks me into it. »Of course you should go, it’s gonna be a blast!« she said. I contact John Coffer via letters (not e-mail), and we agree that I join his workshop in june of 2007. Of course the workshop is great, and I get an experience I’ll never forget.

So, now what?

Back home in Sweden, I am determined to start making wet plates here. There are more than a few obstacles on the course though. The governmental control over chemical supplies is very much different from the USA. And the prices are on a whole other level. I work for more than a year to get hold of the suppliers and supplies, get permits from the authorities, and learn more and more about the chemicals needed to make wet plate collodion photographs. I also build a small, portable darkroom and modify cameras for wet plate photography.

Genealogy

Making my first Swedish wet plate

Early June 2008 I pour my first plate in Sweden. Immediate disaster. Something in my chemistry is fogging my unexposed plates, making them unusable. Through weeks of troubleshooting I finally make a successful plate, and struggle to make about 20 more plates before the summer ends. The fogged plates haunt me.

First wet plate exhibition

In august 2008 I have my first show. It’s not a solo show, but quite the opposite. Together with more than 200 other photographers I hang my photographs on a wooden fence. The fence is about 2 meters high, 200 meters long, and surrounds a soccer field. You can see the exhibition here.