All Wet In Denver
October 21st, 2011
On the drive back home from out west I had a wonderful opportunity to hang out with a couple great photographers, thanks to Brooke. We made a small detour on the way back east for a stop in Denver where Brooke was scheduled to work with Mark Sink and Kristen Hatgi. So I spent a day hanging out at their home while they did photos of Brooke.
Both Mark and Kristen are very nice people and excellent photographers. But there is another element to their work that moves it into a whole different level. They both work with the wet plate collodion process. They really know this old process and they let me watch the entire process from coating the plates to the finishing of the unique, one of a kind, photos that result. It was a real treat to get to see all the details of how this process is done.
I was surprised at how relatively simple the wet plate process is. Of course, it was invented and practiced at a time when things we take for granted, like running water, were not all that common. And there are parts of it, like the coating of the plates, that Mark and Kristen make look easy, but only because of the skill they have achieved through years of practice. And I learned a few of the incidental quirks of this process. Like, obviously, the plates are wet…but it had never occurred to me that a result of that is that the plate holders, when loaded, will drip. And the sensitized collodion that drips out will create a permanent black stain where ever it drops. Not something you want on your carpet or hard wood floors. So the holders come out of the darkroom in a tray.
Here’s one of Mark’s wet plate photos of Brooke:
But, there’s more to it than just the process. This really is a fairly simple process that anyone could learn with a bit of effort and time. But it’s one thing to learn and practice an old photography method. It’s quite another to take that method and use it to make art. But that’s what Mark and Kristen are doing. Their photos made with this process are wonderful creations. There’s a sort of spiritual quality to the finished photos that is simply not matched by any other process that I’ve ever seen. Mark and Kristen use that power of this process to produce amazingly powerful photographs. The beauty of the finished plates cannot be reproduced by a scan on the web, but you can get a hint of it from these samples. If you ever have the chance to see Mark and Kristen’s work in person, you should take advantage of it…you won’t be disappointed.
Here’s one of Kristen’s wet plate photos of Brooke:
As much as I loved seeing both the process and the results, I’m also sure that wet plate photography is not something I’ll be doing. If you’ve followed my blog for any amount of time you know that I consider cameras and other photo equipment…and processes like film or digital or wet plate collodion…to be tools that can be chosen for the purpose at hand. Every photographer should chose the tools that are best suited to the work they are trying to do. And we should each chose the tools that fit our working style and that are the best fit for us.
Another by Mark:
I work with digital cameras. I adopted digital early because it was an obvious best fit for the kind of color work I was interested in doing. I’ve worked with pretty much every kind of camera that is out there and I know what works for me. And what works for me is definitely not a view camera. Let alone a system where each plate must be coated by hand right before it is put in the camera and exposed. I could not work that way. It would make me crazy and I could not get the results I’m after. But all that just increases my respect and admiration for Mark and Kristen who are true masters of the wet plate collodion process. It is clearly the right tool for their work and they are making wonderful art as a result.
And one more by Kristen: