Fall may be my favorite season. There is something so refreshing to me about letting things go, clearing them, and readying yourself for a new year. This year, as the fall colors began to make their appearance, I had the opportunity to learn a technique that I've been dreaming about for years.
I first became interested in photography because of film. Film intrigued me. The literal freezing of a moment of time, what one of my college professors used to refer to as a "visual absence." For practical purposes, my work that I do now is all digital, but I still shoot film often, and if I am given an opportunity to shoot film, I take it, because there is just something about those chemicals, that silver, the tangible realness of film that I can't divorce. I love it too much. When I began learning about film and different processes, I was introduced to the work of Sally Mann. I scoured the internet and the library searching for information about her and found a documentary, broken into parts, on Youtube. I was fascinated with how she worked, transforming her suburban into a mobile darkroom, preparing glass plates, and pouring the collodion just so, all out in the field, so she could get her shots on her large format camera. I decided years ago that I would learn this, try it at least once, and if it was too hard, or I hated it I never had to do it again, but a part of me knew that wouldn't be the case.
I was fortunate enough to have some help getting to a collodion workshop this last September. I had initially began fundraising because I had been accepted into another workshop entirely, but it was too expensive, and even with the generous gifts of my donors, there was just no way it was going to happen. I found out that not too far from my home, I would have the chance to study, gaining hands on experience in collodion process.
I am so glad I attended this workshop. Maine Media workshop is a gem, and I hope to attend more workshops there in the future. My teacher, Brenton Hamilton, and his assistant Harrison, were exceptional. I have to just take a moment to talk about them, because it is rare to find a teachers that are so generous. They must have been just exhausted after this workshop because for two full days, 9-5, they made every students' vision, ideas, and inspiration happen. This isn't just a matter of helping us take a picture, it is a matter of staging a shot, placing the camera, preparing the plates, exposing the shot, and developing it. I watched Harrison move a huge 8x10 wet plate camera and its enormous tripod across campus several times. They gave us individual attention, they gave us as much or as little information as we wanted, they didn't flinch at even the most repetitive series of questions. They endured extended periods of time in a darkroom, with some serious chemicals, (ether, anyone?) and they did all of this without any hesitation. I'll say it again, it is RARE to find teachers that are so generous. It was inspiring.
Collodion process is finicky and difficult, you must coat and prepare your plate precisely or you will ruin it, you need to expose your plate within just a few minutes, or the collodion will dry, or again, it is a waste. It is incredibly EASY to destroy your work. It was far more stressful than I had initially thought. You have to really and I mean really let go of the reigns in this process. Part of the beauty of these exposures is that they have an incredible spectral range, there are literally more grays to be seen. Even really amazing digital cameras just don't get quite the same effect. The trade off is that there are imperfections in all of them, specks of dust and tiny spots. On one of my favorite exposures, despite my best efforts, some of the collodion must have coated the plate wrong, leading to some spots I didn't intend. I was lucky enough to be able to make four exposures. I really love them.
It made me realize that the artists whose work I have admired who use collodion process are far more amazing and skilled than I had initially realized. I plan to keep learning as much as I can about this process, and hopefully I'll get the chance to do more of it.
Here are the images I created that weekend. I hope you love them as much as I do.