Despite rumours, I am not dead. For the last few months I’ve been quietly loosing my marbles in the darkroom. Its been a battle of willpower, like trying to maintain going the gym after work. Like many skills that need mastering, eventually it falls into place and starts working leaving you wondering why it never worked in the first place. The later half of 2016 I decided that I wanted to switch from tintypes to making handcrafted negatives. Collodion negatives are great, I’ve hardly ever made a good one. If I was to go down this route I suspect I would need to dedicate a year to practice. At the back of my mind was the niggling doubt; despite its awesomeness, Collodion is bloody inconvenient!
For the sake of sanity and the joys of travel without needing to convert a van into a mobile darkroom, I decided to move forward in time to the Gelatin Dryplate Process. After a workshop and several vintage book deliveries later I was quickly becoming extremely knowledgable of the process. The main and somewhat not minor hitch was the fact I couldn’t get it to work at all.
Not to be outdone by science I started making and testing emulsions each night like a metothorical conveyer belt of failure. One day it all started working great, and basically Im not sure why. With alternative photography I sometimes feel you need to first appease the magical photography pixies.
Gelatin Dryplates started in the hands of the Amateurs and thus a few books and notes exist on their discoveries and treaties on the process. Later the technicalities disappeared into the hands of corporate companies and everything went very secret. Despite this the amateurs managed to take things quite far before everything went overly secret and requiring specialist laboratory techniques and equipment.
Gelatin dry plates generally act and behave like modern film. You can make plates one week, shoot them another and develop them some weeks later. There is something magical about developing a negative on a sheet of glass. My plates have no anti-halination, they cannot see red yellow or green. They are silver rich and ooze vintage goodnesss.
There is something very rewarding about creating your own plates, shooting and developing them. Im making a very slow emulsion, ISO 1. I have only just started getting a feel for them when creating images. Each batch has the possibility of having slightly different ISO and to add to the confusion the emulsion is UV light sensitive only which makes estimating exposure that more tricky. Greens reds and yellows are not recorded but the UV light reflecting from them is. The quality of light will also greatly effect exposure. Its not a black art, but at times it can feel like it.
Ive just cut some glass, filed the edges with a dimond stone. Washed in Fairly liquid and rinsed in distilled water. Tonight I coat the emulsion onto the glass, did I say I love the process?