www.davidsokosh.com

DAVID SOKOSH

WET-PLATE COLLODION

HOW IT WORKS


Wet-Plate Collodion was the second major photo technique, the first being Daguerreotype which was introduced in 1839. From the 1850’s through the 1870’s most of the photographs made in America were created using Wet-Plate. The term refers to a technique that uses Collodion, which is poured by hand onto plates of metal or glass. When the Collodion is poured onto blackened metal plates the pictures created are called Tintypes. If that same collodion is poured onto sheets of glass, which are backed with black, the results are referred to as Ambrotypes. Again, if Collodion is poured onto clear glass, the product is a negative, which can be used to make prints on paper. Wet-Plate Collodion is the overarching technique. What the collodion is poured onto determines whether the finished product is a Tintype, Ambrotype or Glass Negative.

Collodion is not inherently light-sensitive. It is cotton, dissolved in ether and diluted with grain alcohol. Iodides are added to the mixture. Once the Collodion is poured onto a plate, that plate is dunked into a tank of Silver Nitrate. Silver Nitrate is also not light sensitive, however the silver bonds with the iodides in the Collodion to create Silver Iodide, which IS light sensitive. The plate is removed from the Silver Nitrate bath in a dark room, and immediately placed into a plate holder. This allows the sensitized plate to be carried out into the sun and placed in a large View Camera. This is the type of camera that sits on a tripod, and requires that the photographer put his/her head under a black cloth. Sokosh uses simple wooden cameras of his own design and fabrication, combined with original 19th Century lenses. The exposure is made by simply removing a cap from the lens, waiting for the plate to expose, and then replacing the lens cap. Exposures out-of-doors usually are between five and ten seconds, but indoor exposures can range from one to three minutes. Once the plate has been exposed, it is taken back to the dark room, where it is processed by pouring a developer over its surface, rinsed in water to stop the action of the developer and then cleared in Hypo which is Sodium Thiosulfate. All of this must take place within a five minute window of opportunity. If the plate is allowed to dry, it is useless. The fact that the plate is wet while it is in the camera gives Wet-Plate Collodion its name. A darkroom of some sort must be on hand to coat the plates before exposure and to process them after. For this reason, it is very rare to see 19th century tintypes created outdoors. Most were shot in studios with darkrooms nearby. Sokosh uses a World War I era artillery wagon with a tent structure added as a portable darkroom. After the plates have been fixed in Hypo, they are washed, dried and are given a protective coat of varnish, which gives the plates their glossy appearance.

The third major photographic process, called Dry-Plate, was introduced around 1880. As the name suggests, these plates were dry when exposed in the camera. They could be purchased in a package, already coated and ready to use, and processed in a darkroom at a later time. Dry-Plate is essentially the same chemical-photo process we are familiar with today. Because of the short shelf life of many of the materials used in Wet-Plate Collodion, 19th Century photographers had to be chemists as well, hand mixing and coating their plates. Books were written in the period, to give instructions on how to create the photographic plates. Reading these same guides, Sokosh is using the same chemistry and technology to create his images. In a departure from 19th century techniques, Sokosh uses aluminum rather than tin plates. The ferric (iron) nature of tin will contaminate the Silver Nitrate bath, and aluminum plates with baked black enamel surface are commercially available today. His images are unique originals, each created separately in the camera, not printed from negatives.