19th Century Experiments

wetplateI recently travelled to cold and snowy Scotland, where I spent a couple of days learning all about the amazing process known as wet plate collodion. This was a 19th Century technique used to record historical events such as the American Civil War.  It’s a beautiful and rather serendipitous process, which involves coating, exposing and developing a plate all within the space of ten minutes.  The first three images above represent my first efforts, and the scratches and bubbles are testament to my skill as a beginner.  One of the things that I love about the process is that it strips back any femininity or conventional beauty.  It takes everything back to raw, and the blemishes and imperfections of people’s faces are there to see.  In a world where I spend much of my time editing out these realities, it feels refreshing to see beauty in people’s faces as they are. A person’s eyes are thought to be the windows to the soul, and the eyes are the stars of the show in this process.

Each image had to be exposed for at least 12 seconds.  Ever wondered why nobody seemed to smile in photographs from 100 years ago? It’s much easier to hold a frown or blank expression for 12+ seconds than a toothy grin. For me, the process of photography is of as much importance as the end result, and wet plate collodion is an extremely rewarding process.  As the photographer, I am in charge of coating and exposing the image, but the sitter also has an important role in remaining ever so still.  It is a true team effort between photographer and subject.

Thank you to Carl Radford for his teaching and hospitality and thank you to Louise Boyd for modelling.  A final thank you goes to Polly Alexandre, a fellow photographer and friend, who posed for countless plates and took the final image above of me.

I think this is the start of a beautiful adventure.

  • Andri said:

    wow these are amazing, really bring out the eyes, especially Polly's of you.

  • woweee, love this Jodie so beautiful, they make me want to touch the prints they have such an overwhelming physical presence, the prints are gorgeous, look forward to seeing more. very jealous.x

  • These are incredible Jodie. I'd love to give something like this a go with my large format camera too.

  • This is stunning Jodie. I always think images from 100 years ago have a very ghostly quality about them but there is a real warmth in your image. What a rewarding process, no doubt much more a labour of love than our digital equivalent.

  • Binky said:

    Wow Jodie, this is fabulous! I would love to have at something like this. They look stunning!!!

  • Love it. Got a lovely feel to it. I've got a couple of vintage cameras on our hall stand and I just love them. One plate camera was used by my Grandad to shoot my parents wedding and.... He managed to put the plates in back to front!

  • I adore these and love Polly's gorgeous portrait of you. Simply beautiful.
    What a wonderful thing to have the chance to do.

    Happy New Year! x

  • Alexa said:

    I really enjoyed this post Jodie. The images seem really alive, if that makes sense? Powerful and a little bit haunting (you're right, it's something about the window eyes!) It must be really exciting to be undertaking this project, I can't wait to see future experiments. (PS Love film/plate friday blog posts!)

  • A very interesting project. I remember reading about your win in Pro Photo Magaize some time ago and in reference to your wedding photography you have developed a beautiful style.

  • These are amazing!!! I would love to know how and where you found out how to do this - Awesome!

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