Wet Plate Technique

Isabella Sophie Gerber

Whole plate ambrotype  (6.5″ x 8.5″) of Isabella Sophie Gerber shot in my studio recently under UV light.  An ambrotype is a slightly underexposed image made on a glass plate using the wet plate collodion photographic process.  It appears as a negative until placed against a dark background, which reverses the tones, rendering the image as a positive.

This ambrotype was shot using two six-tube arrays of UV lights.  Each array contained five 48″ 6500K fluorescent tubes + one 48″ blacklight.  I used a 19th century reproduction tailboard camera with an original 1872 brass barrel Ross portrait lens (f/4) made in London.  Exposure time was 10 seconds.

Portrait of cellist Sharon Mulfinger Gerber

This is a new tintype of my friend and cellist Sharon Mulfinger Gerber of Greenville, SC.  She and her daughters visited the studio last Saturday and sat for portraits.  I also made ambrotypes of them during that session.  Image details:  whole plate (6.5″ x 8.5″), 19th century wet plate collodion process.  Shot with a reproduction E. & H. T. Anothony tailboard camera, made by Ray Morganweck of Star camera Company, using an original 1872 brass barrel Ross portrait lens (f/4).  I used two stands of 6500K UV tubes (12 tubes total, 2 of which were black lights).  Exposure time 10 seconds — could have been done in 8 seconds, though.

In this YouTube video, Quinn Jacobson demonstrates the proper technique for protecting a collodion emulsion with a varnish consisting of gum sandarac, alcohol and oil of lavender.  If you watched the Sally Mann video (two posts back), you saw her scraping a collodion emulsion from one of her glass plates in the field.  Perhaps an initial pour did not go well and she wanted to recoat the plate; or she was not completely satisfied with an image and wanted to start over.  Collodion can be easily removed from an unvarnished plate.  Left unprotected, the emulsion will eventually begin to peel off and may completely disintegrate.  Varnishing is simply a way of ensuring the archival quality of the plate.