In my post, “What I Learned from a Doctor’s Visit,” I addressed a comment by author, professor, and photographic historian, Dr. Geoffrey Batchen about my wet plate collodion work. Read the post for my reaction to his, “obsolete process” comment.
Dr. Batchen had another comment about my work during his review. First, understand he didn’t know who I was or my intentions in the series. As I said in the “What I Learned from a Doctor’s Visit” post, I wanted an objective opinion from a stranger without benefit of context.
By the way, I recommend doing that. Don’t always explain your work or present an artist statement at reviews and showings. Let the work speak to the viewer. Show up at showings of your work and don’t introduce yourself. But be prepared. What is said will be from an honesty often absent when the artist is present. You will hear unvarnished criticism at times. You may not like everything you hear, but that’s good. Sorry for rambling! Back to the story…
Dr. Batchen looked over the collodion plates arranged randomly on a large black cloth, and he said, “At first glance I thought these plates were found objects, because they look so old. Upon second glance, these plates look even older than original mid-1800s wet collodion process used to make them. In that way, they play with time.” Yes I remember the exact quote!
As frustrating as the first comment was, his playing with time comment was exactly what I wanted in the collodion series. For the series to work, the hands of the clock had to be removed to allow the viewer to travel back and forth between old and new.
The unrivaled archival properties of wet plate collodion helped out. Modern papers and inks project a life approaching 100 years, based on laboratory tests, extrapolation and educated guesswork. How long does a well-washed and varnished collodion plate last? We have no clue!
Hundreds of examples exist of wet plate collodion plates unchanged 160 years after later. They are not slightly faded or somewhat degraded – they are unchanged! The images are permanently sealed under baked-on varnish, freezing it in time.
Did I succeed in the project? Not completely, but I’m convinced I’ll never really succeed at this. It’s like golf or target practice. You never really win. You only do better or worse than last time.
Ultimately, I’d love to do a series with images so strong that collodion becomes an afterthought. Then again, if I achieved that goal, I’d be disappointed if nobody commented or asked about the process. It seems to be all I talk about!
Here are a few images based on the plates from that series. The files are scans from traditional black and white contact prints made using the collodion plates. Black and white prints from collodion plates reveal detail not always apparent in scans of the plates: