The December 13, 2011 podcast of Poetry Off the Shelf did a piece on a person who was obsessed with the memorization of poetry. He said memorizing a poem inscribed the poem onto himself. It allowed him to carry poetry with him in a way that he could never do by bringing along a book or computer file.

Memorizing poetry means more than remembering words. It’s about knowing the subtleties and complexities of poetry, and takes dedication, energy and time. You can’t rush it, and you can’t keep an eye on the clock while doing it. You must lose yourself in the task and forget the clock altogether. Yank the plug. Take out the batteries. Maybe remove the hands.

I hate digital electronic clocks. The have no souls. And no moving parts. They are counters with displays, not clocks. Inside, a software routine repeats a series of steps for a pre-programmed number of times that equates to one second. When that point is reached, the numeric display advances, and “one second” passes. Or one minute, or one hour. Whatever.

Every electrical and computer engineering student I know of built a digital clock as part of a lab project. Even with two electrical engineering degrees, I prefer the design and function of the mechanical clock.

An analog “old school” mechanical clock is a work of art. Springs unwind and trigger a complex sequence of swinging pendulums, spinning wheels, oscillating levers, and advancing gears in a delicate balance of precision. When power is removed from a digital clock, it dies. When a mechanical clock winds down, it doesn’t quit, it rests.

Doing the wet plate collodion photographic process is a lot like memorizing poetry or building a mechanical clock. “What time is it” is a meaningless question to ask until your done. If I pour a plate, expose it, develop the image or varnish it, it doesn’t matter if a clock reads 3:17, 5:42, half past the hour, or AM or PM. I’m aware of the passing of time in collodion, but only in a vague, nonlinear way.

Collodion removes the hands of the clock. There is a sense of urgency, but it’s not clock-based. It’s process-based. There is no shutter click, no film advance, no electronic clicks, buzzes and whirs, no computers, no printers, and rarely a need for electrical power or running water.

Just time. And I mean time in the generic sense, not the tick tick ticking thing that tracks it.

Maybe that’s why people say that wet plate collodion produces timeless images.

"At Rest" © Todd Vinson (8x10 collodion on anodized aluminum, from "Forty-seven and 11/12ths")

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