The coolest thing about my wet plate collodion field camera is that it’s 11×14. The painest in the buttest thing about my wet plate collodion field camera is that it’s an 11×14.

I try to set up as close to my truck as possible, not because I’m lazy but because I need to be near a portable collodion darkroom, because the collodion process must be done before the chemicals are dry on the plate.

What the photographer saw:

What the camera saw (well, in the camera it was backwards and upside down):

The above is an 8×10 test plate of the scene to test for the amount of UV light and exposure needed. I found the old gas pump more interesting than the structure of the station, so I moved in closer (but farther away from the portable darkroom).

That lens is almost as heavy as the rest of the camera. It’s mid-1800s vintage, but has qualities that produce images that seem older than the process itself.

© Todd Vinson

Sometimes there is no option but to set up collodion supplies and a portable darkroom in one place (This is before I starting towing a utility trailer as a portable darkroom):

And the camera in another place farther away:

This camera is about as big as I can comfortably handle in the field. Strike that. There’s nothing comfortable about this! But wet plate collodion is not about being comfortable.

When the darkroom is not near the camera, the collodion photographer must work very fast but be even more cautious and deliberate at the same time, if that makes sense. Time must be taken to carefully compose and focus the camera and lock the focus in place. There may not be time to re-check before exposure. Once that’s done, t’s time to go back to the portable darkroom site to prepare and sensitize the plate.

The clock’s ticking as soon as the collodion is poured on the plate. After it’s sensitized in a special bath and placed in the plate holder, it’s time to run like mad back to the camera (oh! Take the plate holder with you! Yes, I’ve made that mistake too!). Once back, relax as much but as quickly as possible. The plate holder must be carefully placed in the camera back and exposed without disturbing the camera focus or orientation.

Once the exposure is done, run like mad back to the darkroom area (with the plate holder!), and stop to relax the heart, because now it’s time to carefully (but quickly) develop the plate by hand before the collodion dries. On hot days this can happen soon.

If the exposure is off or something goes wrong, or you guessed wrong on the exposure, or you were too patient or too impatient, failure. That’s part of the risk.

OK, the above is an extreme example of collodion in the field when the camera and darkroom are not close. It can’t be made any harder. The smart field photographer chooses subjects that are convenient! Sometimes I do too!

I’ve toyed with the idea of doing a video of this from a head-mounted camera just for fun.

I don’t think I’ve posted these images on the blog yet. They were made with a variety of lenses from older than the large lens seen above, and newer more modern lenses, including cheap plastic lenses. Also a few of the images came from combining field photography with a merge of collodion and modern photographic processes.

© Todd Vinson______________________________

Making art is not about being comfortable. I plan to go bigger (20×24 or 24×24 square plates) in format. I plan to go smaller too.

A lot smaller. I think small images let the viewer interact in a way that’s impossible in most large-format fine art exhibitions.

One of my goals is to bring the risk of the collodion process into the exhibition and let the viewers become handlers of a collection of one-of-a-kind fragile plates. But that’s another post!

By the way, I’m putting together a 2012 workshop schedule so if you’re interested in making large (or small) collodion plates in the field, let me know! I promise running like mad is not a requirement! But if you should be so inclined, be prepared to wear a collodion head-cam!