Let your passion guide you.
Super delighted to have you here with us today, Daniel! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and a brief story on how you got into wet plate process?
Daniel: I am a photographer and artist that uses the wet plate collodion process from 1850’s to create images on metal and also glass. I work out of my studio in Hamilton NJ USA but I also travel extensively around the USA taking my equipment and darkroom with me. I enjoy capturing both portraits, landscapes and also creating jewelry from the images.
About five years about my brother James has told me about wet plate photography but I didn’t really take too much notice. I took at trip out to San Francisco and he told me to go visit a place called Photobooth and have my portrait taken. I went ahead and met with Michael Schindler who took a 4x5 of me. I was blown away by the whole concept, the process and end result. I have an inquisitive nature and had to find out more about this when I returned home. The more I learnt and uncovered how the process worked the more I wanted to start using it for real. It has been a long journey up to this point and has taken al ot of energy to pursue this form of art. I also have a great interest in history, especially the Victorian era and enjoy the idea of bringing back something so special from the past.
Why do you prefer this process?
Daniel: I love and prefer this process for several reasons. It is a very hands on experience with several different steps to get the final image. I am essentially creating the film from scratch and using raw chemicals and I can capture the world around me with little or no technology. Each plate is unique and is a tangible piece of art - 1 of 1. There are many challenging aspects which I enjoy for instance learning how to compensate for certain environmental challenges such as temperature and humidity. This process also forces you to understand not only light but also all the basic photography rules that digital hides or automates for you. Each image once composed takes about 20 mins to prepare, shoot, develop and fix which means everything must be considered before taking the shot. I use a 16x20 inch camera and it gets expensive if things are wrong. Preparation as with most things is everything.
This primitive process uses silver and UV light and represents images in a realm that is surreal dreamlike. Wet plate portraits capture subcutaneous layers very well and show us in a different light literally. There is an honesty and purity to this raw analog process. There is an intimacy with my subject, my camera, and my chemicals and this process that can’t be felt using a digital process. I really enjoy people’s reaction when I show them the plate coming up in the fixer. It’s magic every time. With all the modernisation of everything around us manual hands on tasks are few and far between. It’s a pleasure to take time, relax and enjoy the whole experience.
What do you think collodion has that digital doesn't have?
Daniel: To keep it simple - less is more. We all have phones, hard drives, and cloud space full of thousands of pictures that we have taken and perhaps will never see again unless they are printed and hung on the wall. I don’t have to sit in front of a computer for hours and go through thousands of images that I’m going to delete. I feel over the past few decades with technology and automation we have been slowly losing the real essence of artisanship that has been replaced with fast alternatives for convenience. I took a beautiful plate of the Paterson Falls in NJ. The first plate of the day I took was perfect and that was all I needed - no need for taking hundreds of pictures of the same thing. There are no real post production options either with wet plate that digital media offers so it really is a case of mastering a craft. With this process you not only take the photograph but you make the photograph by hands which is an entirely different approach to capturing images.
The quality, depth and detail of wet plates are incredible. It’s really a case of pixels and small electronic sensors VS atoms of silver and large format cameras which really are no comparison. Of course there is no color in wet plate collodion but with the use of silver nitrate it creates a beautiful, reflective, and almost iridescent raw image of the truth.
What motivates you to continue making photographs with this process? Have you learned anything about yourself through wet plate process?
Daniel: It has taught me patience, face challenges, also gratitude and appreciation for the first photographers and the knowledge and level of craftsmanship they achieved. Learning and practicing wetplate is similar to being in a relationship and there is always the potential for things to go wrong. It can be cruel at times and unexplained things can happen. The good news is if the chemistry is right it is ultimately going work with persistence and perseverance. However like anything you truly love you when things aren’t working you have to be patient and take your time to try to understand what is going wrong. It’s an investment but once you gain that understanding you take yourself up to new levels and you fall In love with it all over again. It pays off in the end as the quality and reward is even greater each time you learn from your mistakes and re-energize your passion. For those learning this process let your passion guide you.
Are there any photographers that influenced your way of making pictures?
Daniel: The first person to inspire me to learn this craft was Michael Shindler, portrait photographer in San Francisco. IMHO he is the one of the best wet plate portrait photographers in the world. The way he understands and uses light is incredible. His style has influenced my portraits enormously.
Edward Curtis is also a legend who worked on a thirty year project to capture the Native American Indian Tribes. His passion and commitment to undertake such a project is extremely inspiring to me. The images are hauntingly beautiful and he left an incredible legacy.
Francesco Mastalia is a wonderful wet plate photography from Upstate New York - his mastery of the use of natural light is astonishing. When I work outside I think about his work and what his approach might be to the challenge at hand.
Alex Timmerman’s whimsical images and his storytelling are very unique. He really leverages this process to create surreal dreamlike scenes and moods. I have followed him for quite sometime and on the the many examples he sets is cleanliness and has pushed me to be as clean as possible in the darkroom.
There are many photographers and too many to list but I must mention Ian Ruther who makes the world’s largest plates. His mammoth plates in Monument Valley are so incredible and when you see one in person you won't believe your eyes. He inspired me to take my own journey out there with my darkroom in my truck at the beginning of 2017 which took me 11,000 miles around the USA. I spent a little time with Ian a couple of years ago and he opened my eyes to the possibilities of making larger plates. He gave me the guts to start using a 16x20 camera. I learnt from him to always no matter what respect your work and tools and when things stop working believe in yourself and you can overcome those obstacles.
Do you see any value or merits shooting with wet plate?
Daniel: I think the value of this is in the plate itself and what it represents. It is unique and can’t be truly reproduced which makes it valuable in itself. If I take a second plate of exactly the same thing it will look different because of many factors such as changing light, temperature, pouring techniques. This process is imperfect and that’s part of its beauty. I think it’s an important art form that should not be lost or forgotten. If I want perfection I use my digital camera. The sitter will always remember that portrait being taken at that precise moment in time. It becomes a memorable experience for both of us.
What do you think your future is like with wet plate photography?
Daniel: I think it's going to be amazing. There are so many people discovering and are interested in this kind of photography. I sell portraits and some days I am jammed for 10 hours a day. I also have found many people who want to learn this process, so I teach workshops at my studio as well. I think we are going to see a surge in new wet plate artists. People love this style of photography which should help keep it alive for years to come.
Do you have any dream project using this process?
Daniel: Yes! I am working on a book at the moment that involves dancing and movement. I don’t want to give too much away yet but it’s exciting and I hope will capture the ideas of love and passion for anything in life. I have enough strobe light now to still capture movement on wet plate. This kind of photography is a challenge using wet plate collodion because the ISO of collodion is about 0.3!
Would you like to offer some good words to those who want to try film photography for the first time? What must they learn before venturing into this format?
Daniel: If you have the passion for this and patience go for it! I would say be cautious of what you read on the Internet about this process and the troubleshooting advice you may hear. Find some sources you can trust who have had good success with this process and that you can get advice from. I also recommend getting some good books and asking advice from Dana Sullivan at Bostick and Sullivan on the chemical side of things. They are great suppliers of the chemicals you would need and have a good knowledge of the process. My first year was trial and error. I took a workshop with John Coffer who is a mentor to me when it comes to the process and it really helped elevate what I was doing.
You can start simple and you don’t have to invest in a huge camera either. In fact you can use an old 35mm film camera to get started.
Anything you want to add?
Daniel: My next public appearance will be at Philadelphia Salvage where I will be taking portraits on Oct 27th 2017. I am going to be shooting the Philadelphia Tweed Bike ride November 4th which should be fun event. I am also working with some new models on some interesting concepts in the coming months. I do also give wet plate collodion workshops once a month at my studio in Hamilton NJ so I am kept quite busy. The workshops are great because I love to teach my passion but also am slowly building a network of like minded wet plate collodion artists who are able to support each other through this learning process.
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Well now, if you are a passionate film photographer and would like to be interviewed? I’d love to hear from you. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject, "Interview me", and share your story, thoughts, and work related to film photography. I’ll get back to you as soon as I receive your request for an interview.
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