Wet plate photography is an ancient technique that still has many fans today. But is the process dangerous for the photographer?
Analog photography has an appeal to many of us; the tactile experience is enriching in an increasingly digital world. Even though I know it’s not, when I take photos on film I feel more like I’m exercising a skill than when I take the same kind of photographs with my digital camera. However, loading film into a camera, taking a photo, and rolling the film is really not that difficult. There are older techniques that have seen a surge in popularity in recent years.
One of these techniques is wet plate photography, also known as the collodion process. It is a long and difficult procedure that was invented around 1851 by a British compatriot, Frederick Scott Archer. The original method is as follows:
The process involved adding a soluble iodide to a solution of collodion (cellulose nitrate) and coating a glass plate with the mixture. In the darkroom, the plate was immersed in a solution of silver nitrate to form silver iodide. The plate, still wet, was exposed in the camera. It was then developed by pouring a solution of pyrogallic acid over it and was fixed with a strong solution of sodium thiosulfate, for which the potassium cyanide was then replaced. – Britannica
In this video, Markus Hofstätter explains his wet plate process and how he takes steps to avoid the dangers inherent in such a photographic method. Despite wearing masks, working in well-ventilated rooms, and taking necessary precautions with chemicals, he still has blood tests twice a year to make sure his liver function is at the right level and that he is in good health. there is no cadmium present. Hofstätter is a bit of an expert in wet plate photography and this video taught me how dangerous it can be – something I hadn’t realized!