The jeans may have already tipped you off, but no, this woman is not from the 1860s. This photo was actually taken in the current millennium by Kansas photographer Earl Richardson, who recently entered the world of the collodion wet plate process to create a new (and old) style of images.
Earl started on his collodion journey when a few years back, he started noticing photographs that had a distinctly different aesthetic. After digging around, Earl discovered it was because they were being taken with a method from a different era, the Civil War period. Earl was fascinated, and set about learning how to make photographs with this process, the collodion wet plate process.
Earl was lucky enough to know an old college friend, Jeff Schotland, who had himself, began experimenting in the world of collodion wet plates, and he called on the friend to teach him the process. Earl spent a few days in Jeff’s studio to learn the ropes. Then Jeff helped him find an appropriate camera and lens to use. He settled 5 by 7 Ty Guillory camera and a Voigtlander, and subsequently a Dallmeyer 3B lens. “The Dallmeyer was the Rolls Royce of lenses when it was manufactured in 1869,” says Earl.
It all seemed very daunting at first. But after a few days I really wanted to do some work using the process.
The process for the images takes, from start to finish, ten minutes, and this is where Earl gets technical. After he sets up what he’s going to shoot, he coats his plate with collodion, which contains ether, nitrocellulose, and cadmium bromide. “It’s got the consistency of runny maple syrup,” says Earl. After about 20 seconds, he puts the plate into a 9% Silver solution for four minutes. This makes it light-sensitive. After that, he takes the plate into safelight darkness (think portable darkroom) and pulls it out of the silver. He puts the plate into the film holder, puts the film holder into the camera, and takes the picture.
Immediately after, he develops the plate for about 15 seconds, then uses water to stop development. Finally, he fixes it with Ilford Rapid Fix, to freeze the image in the stage he wants. He washes the plate for 20 minutes, dries it, and seals it with a lavender oil sanderac varnish. “It’s pretty quick; kind of like a 19th century Polaroid,” Earl notes.
Earl says the process is mercurial. The results can vary with the slightest alteration in any of the elements. The silver solution can change over time as the collodion builds up, and the solution’s pH balance can always shift.
It’s as if I’m negotiating with the silver and the collodion and the light to get a picture.
Earl is loving incorporating this new style into his portraiture and still life images. People are fascinated by the process, and he wants to continue using it to show off his subjects in a different way. Earl plans to start a series capturing images of his hometown of Lawrence, KS, a place he feels is so odd and eccentric, it deserves to be captured in a bit of an odd and eccentric way.
To view more of Earl’s work, visit earlrichardson.com.