Rain
57°
Rain
Hi 59° | Lo 48°

Dark and moody, collodion photos make a comeback

  • This photo provided by Studio Q shows "Skull Valley Massacre, 1864," an image by Quinn Jacobson that he took this month at Teepee Mountain in a valley West of Prescott, Ariz., where a group of Yavapai families were massacred by soldiers.  Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, even haunting, images and complicated, hands-on process. "The aesthetic is kind of a half-remembered dream," says Jacobson, a Denver photographer. Jacobson, who is part Navajo, is documenting the sites where troops massacred Native Americans during the mid- to late 1800s.  (AP Photo/ Studio Q, Quinn Jacobson)

    This photo provided by Studio Q shows "Skull Valley Massacre, 1864," an image by Quinn Jacobson that he took this month at Teepee Mountain in a valley West of Prescott, Ariz., where a group of Yavapai families were massacred by soldiers. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, even haunting, images and complicated, hands-on process. "The aesthetic is kind of a half-remembered dream," says Jacobson, a Denver photographer. Jacobson, who is part Navajo, is documenting the sites where troops massacred Native Americans during the mid- to late 1800s. (AP Photo/ Studio Q, Quinn Jacobson)

  • This 2011 photo provided by Studio Q shows "Kyleigh, Boulder, Colorado," in a wet plate collodion image made by Quinn Jacobson. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, even haunting, images. "The aesthetic is kind of a half-remembered dream," says Jacobson, a Denver photographer. (AP Photo/ Studio Q, Quinn Jacobson)

    This 2011 photo provided by Studio Q shows "Kyleigh, Boulder, Colorado," in a wet plate collodion image made by Quinn Jacobson. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, even haunting, images. "The aesthetic is kind of a half-remembered dream," says Jacobson, a Denver photographer. (AP Photo/ Studio Q, Quinn Jacobson)

  • This 2011 photo provided by Studio Q shows "Kyleigh, Boulder, Colorado," in a wet plate collodion image made by Quinn Jacobson. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, even haunting, images. "The aesthetic is kind of a half-remembered dream," says Jacobson, a Denver photographer. (AP Photo/ Studio Q, Quinn Jacobson)

    This 2011 photo provided by Studio Q shows "Kyleigh, Boulder, Colorado," in a wet plate collodion image made by Quinn Jacobson. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, even haunting, images. "The aesthetic is kind of a half-remembered dream," says Jacobson, a Denver photographer. (AP Photo/ Studio Q, Quinn Jacobson)

  • This 2010 image made by Euphus Ruth Jr. of Greenville, Miss., titled "He Spoke of Birds," features a family grave plot in Bay St. Louis, Miss. "I was intrigued by the old, rusted wrought-iron gate open, beckoning me to enter," recalls Ruth Jr.. "Birds were flying from an old vase nearby." Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, haunting images and complicated, hands-on process.  (AP Photo/Euphus Ruth Jr.)

    This 2010 image made by Euphus Ruth Jr. of Greenville, Miss., titled "He Spoke of Birds," features a family grave plot in Bay St. Louis, Miss. "I was intrigued by the old, rusted wrought-iron gate open, beckoning me to enter," recalls Ruth Jr.. "Birds were flying from an old vase nearby." Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, haunting images and complicated, hands-on process. (AP Photo/Euphus Ruth Jr.)

  • This 2010 image made by Euphus Ruth Jr. of Greenville, Miss., titled "He Spoke of Birds," features a family grave plot in Bay St. Louis, Miss. "I was intrigued by the old, rusted wrought-iron gate open, beckoning me to enter," recalls Ruth Jr.. "Birds were flying from an old vase nearby." Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, haunting images and complicated, hands-on process.  (AP Photo/Euphus Ruth Jr.)

    This 2010 image made by Euphus Ruth Jr. of Greenville, Miss., titled "He Spoke of Birds," features a family grave plot in Bay St. Louis, Miss. "I was intrigued by the old, rusted wrought-iron gate open, beckoning me to enter," recalls Ruth Jr.. "Birds were flying from an old vase nearby." Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, haunting images and complicated, hands-on process. (AP Photo/Euphus Ruth Jr.)

  • This undated photo provided by Matt Alberts shows Terrill Schmidt of Arvada, Colo., a lifelong skateboarder, or '"lifer" as they self-refer, in an image made by photographer Matt Alberts. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, haunting images and complicated, hands-on process. "I'm creating something just with light and my hands,' says Alberts. "It feels more like art." (AP Photo/Matt Alberts, Matt Alberts Photography)

    This undated photo provided by Matt Alberts shows Terrill Schmidt of Arvada, Colo., a lifelong skateboarder, or '"lifer" as they self-refer, in an image made by photographer Matt Alberts. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, haunting images and complicated, hands-on process. "I'm creating something just with light and my hands,' says Alberts. "It feels more like art." (AP Photo/Matt Alberts, Matt Alberts Photography)

  • This undated photo provided by Matt Alberts shows Terrill Schmidt of Arvada, Colo., a lifelong skateboarder, or '"lifer" as they self-refer, in an image made by photographer Matt Alberts. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, haunting images and complicated, hands-on process. "I'm creating something just with light and my hands,' says Alberts. "It feels more like art." (AP Photo/Matt Alberts, Matt Alberts Photography)

    This undated photo provided by Matt Alberts shows Terrill Schmidt of Arvada, Colo., a lifelong skateboarder, or '"lifer" as they self-refer, in an image made by photographer Matt Alberts. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, haunting images and complicated, hands-on process. "I'm creating something just with light and my hands,' says Alberts. "It feels more like art." (AP Photo/Matt Alberts, Matt Alberts Photography)

  • This undated photo provided by Matt Alberts shows Walter Lacey, a lifelong skateboarder in Denver in an image made by photographer, Matt Alberts. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, haunting images and complicated, hands-on process.  "I’m creating something just with light and my hands," says Alberts. "It feels more like art." (AP Photo/Matt Alberts, Matt Alberts Photography)

    This undated photo provided by Matt Alberts shows Walter Lacey, a lifelong skateboarder in Denver in an image made by photographer, Matt Alberts. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, haunting images and complicated, hands-on process. "I’m creating something just with light and my hands," says Alberts. "It feels more like art." (AP Photo/Matt Alberts, Matt Alberts Photography)

  • This undated photo provided by Matt Alberts shows Walter Lacey, a lifelong skateboarder in Denver in an image made by photographer, Matt Alberts. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, haunting images and complicated, hands-on process.  "I’m creating something just with light and my hands," says Alberts. "It feels more like art." (AP Photo/Matt Alberts, Matt Alberts Photography)

    This undated photo provided by Matt Alberts shows Walter Lacey, a lifelong skateboarder in Denver in an image made by photographer, Matt Alberts. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, haunting images and complicated, hands-on process. "I’m creating something just with light and my hands," says Alberts. "It feels more like art." (AP Photo/Matt Alberts, Matt Alberts Photography)

  • In this image made by Euphus Ruth Jr. of Greenville, Miss., is Estill Baptist Church in Estill, Miss. Once a thriving church, it's no longer in use and slowly deteriorating at the edge of cotton fields, according to Ruth Jr.. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, haunting images and complicated, hands-on process. (AP Photo/Euphus Ruth Jr.)

    In this image made by Euphus Ruth Jr. of Greenville, Miss., is Estill Baptist Church in Estill, Miss. Once a thriving church, it's no longer in use and slowly deteriorating at the edge of cotton fields, according to Ruth Jr.. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, haunting images and complicated, hands-on process. (AP Photo/Euphus Ruth Jr.)

  • In this image made by Euphus Ruth Jr. of Greenville, Miss., is Estill Baptist Church in Estill, Miss. Once a thriving church, it's no longer in use and slowly deteriorating at the edge of cotton fields, according to Ruth Jr.. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, haunting images and complicated, hands-on process. (AP Photo/Euphus Ruth Jr.)

    In this image made by Euphus Ruth Jr. of Greenville, Miss., is Estill Baptist Church in Estill, Miss. Once a thriving church, it's no longer in use and slowly deteriorating at the edge of cotton fields, according to Ruth Jr.. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, haunting images and complicated, hands-on process. (AP Photo/Euphus Ruth Jr.)

  • This circa 1856 photo provided by courtesy of Matt Alberts shows Lowell Gilmore at age 25 with his wife, Mary Eliza Gilmore, age 19, at a sitting in Albany, N.Y.  During the past year Denver photographer Alberts learned the wet plate collodion process -- the same photographic process practiced by his ancestor, Lowell Gilmore, nearly 150 years ago. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, haunting images and complicated, hands-on process. (AP Photo/Courtesy Matt Alberts, Matt Alberts Photography)

    This circa 1856 photo provided by courtesy of Matt Alberts shows Lowell Gilmore at age 25 with his wife, Mary Eliza Gilmore, age 19, at a sitting in Albany, N.Y. During the past year Denver photographer Alberts learned the wet plate collodion process -- the same photographic process practiced by his ancestor, Lowell Gilmore, nearly 150 years ago. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, haunting images and complicated, hands-on process. (AP Photo/Courtesy Matt Alberts, Matt Alberts Photography)

  • This circa 1856 photo provided by courtesy of Matt Alberts shows Lowell Gilmore at age 25 with his wife, Mary Eliza Gilmore, age 19, at a sitting in Albany, N.Y.  During the past year Denver photographer Alberts learned the wet plate collodion process -- the same photographic process practiced by his ancestor, Lowell Gilmore, nearly 150 years ago. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, haunting images and complicated, hands-on process. (AP Photo/Courtesy Matt Alberts, Matt Alberts Photography)

    This circa 1856 photo provided by courtesy of Matt Alberts shows Lowell Gilmore at age 25 with his wife, Mary Eliza Gilmore, age 19, at a sitting in Albany, N.Y. During the past year Denver photographer Alberts learned the wet plate collodion process -- the same photographic process practiced by his ancestor, Lowell Gilmore, nearly 150 years ago. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, haunting images and complicated, hands-on process. (AP Photo/Courtesy Matt Alberts, Matt Alberts Photography)

  • This 2004 photo provided by Studio Q shows "Dusty, Riverdale, Utah," in a wet plate collodion image, made by Quinn Jacobson. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, even haunting, images. "The aesthetic is kind of a half-remembered dream," says Jacobson, a Denver photographer.  (AP Photo/ Studio Q, Quinn Jacobson)

    This 2004 photo provided by Studio Q shows "Dusty, Riverdale, Utah," in a wet plate collodion image, made by Quinn Jacobson. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, even haunting, images. "The aesthetic is kind of a half-remembered dream," says Jacobson, a Denver photographer. (AP Photo/ Studio Q, Quinn Jacobson)

  • This 2004 photo provided by Studio Q shows "Dusty, Riverdale, Utah," in a wet plate collodion image, made by Quinn Jacobson. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, even haunting, images. "The aesthetic is kind of a half-remembered dream," says Jacobson, a Denver photographer.  (AP Photo/ Studio Q, Quinn Jacobson)

    This 2004 photo provided by Studio Q shows "Dusty, Riverdale, Utah," in a wet plate collodion image, made by Quinn Jacobson. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, even haunting, images. "The aesthetic is kind of a half-remembered dream," says Jacobson, a Denver photographer. (AP Photo/ Studio Q, Quinn Jacobson)

  • This photo provided by Studio Q shows "Skull Valley Massacre, 1864," an image by Quinn Jacobson that he took this month at Teepee Mountain in a valley West of Prescott, Ariz., where a group of Yavapai families were massacred by soldiers.  Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, even haunting, images and complicated, hands-on process. "The aesthetic is kind of a half-remembered dream," says Jacobson, a Denver photographer. Jacobson, who is part Navajo, is documenting the sites where troops massacred Native Americans during the mid- to late 1800s.  (AP Photo/ Studio Q, Quinn Jacobson)

    This photo provided by Studio Q shows "Skull Valley Massacre, 1864," an image by Quinn Jacobson that he took this month at Teepee Mountain in a valley West of Prescott, Ariz., where a group of Yavapai families were massacred by soldiers. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, even haunting, images and complicated, hands-on process. "The aesthetic is kind of a half-remembered dream," says Jacobson, a Denver photographer. Jacobson, who is part Navajo, is documenting the sites where troops massacred Native Americans during the mid- to late 1800s. (AP Photo/ Studio Q, Quinn Jacobson)

  • This photo provided by Studio Q shows "Skull Valley Massacre, 1864," an image by Quinn Jacobson that he took this month at Teepee Mountain in a valley West of Prescott, Ariz., where a group of Yavapai families were massacred by soldiers.  Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, even haunting, images and complicated, hands-on process. "The aesthetic is kind of a half-remembered dream," says Jacobson, a Denver photographer. Jacobson, who is part Navajo, is documenting the sites where troops massacred Native Americans during the mid- to late 1800s.  (AP Photo/ Studio Q, Quinn Jacobson)
  • This 2011 photo provided by Studio Q shows "Kyleigh, Boulder, Colorado," in a wet plate collodion image made by Quinn Jacobson. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, even haunting, images. "The aesthetic is kind of a half-remembered dream," says Jacobson, a Denver photographer. (AP Photo/ Studio Q, Quinn Jacobson)
  • This 2011 photo provided by Studio Q shows "Kyleigh, Boulder, Colorado," in a wet plate collodion image made by Quinn Jacobson. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, even haunting, images. "The aesthetic is kind of a half-remembered dream," says Jacobson, a Denver photographer. (AP Photo/ Studio Q, Quinn Jacobson)
  • This 2010 image made by Euphus Ruth Jr. of Greenville, Miss., titled "He Spoke of Birds," features a family grave plot in Bay St. Louis, Miss. "I was intrigued by the old, rusted wrought-iron gate open, beckoning me to enter," recalls Ruth Jr.. "Birds were flying from an old vase nearby." Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, haunting images and complicated, hands-on process.  (AP Photo/Euphus Ruth Jr.)
  • This 2010 image made by Euphus Ruth Jr. of Greenville, Miss., titled "He Spoke of Birds," features a family grave plot in Bay St. Louis, Miss. "I was intrigued by the old, rusted wrought-iron gate open, beckoning me to enter," recalls Ruth Jr.. "Birds were flying from an old vase nearby." Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, haunting images and complicated, hands-on process.  (AP Photo/Euphus Ruth Jr.)
  • This undated photo provided by Matt Alberts shows Terrill Schmidt of Arvada, Colo., a lifelong skateboarder, or '"lifer" as they self-refer, in an image made by photographer Matt Alberts. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, haunting images and complicated, hands-on process. "I'm creating something just with light and my hands,' says Alberts. "It feels more like art." (AP Photo/Matt Alberts, Matt Alberts Photography)
  • This undated photo provided by Matt Alberts shows Terrill Schmidt of Arvada, Colo., a lifelong skateboarder, or '"lifer" as they self-refer, in an image made by photographer Matt Alberts. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, haunting images and complicated, hands-on process. "I'm creating something just with light and my hands,' says Alberts. "It feels more like art." (AP Photo/Matt Alberts, Matt Alberts Photography)
  • This undated photo provided by Matt Alberts shows Walter Lacey, a lifelong skateboarder in Denver in an image made by photographer, Matt Alberts. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, haunting images and complicated, hands-on process.  "I’m creating something just with light and my hands," says Alberts. "It feels more like art." (AP Photo/Matt Alberts, Matt Alberts Photography)
  • This undated photo provided by Matt Alberts shows Walter Lacey, a lifelong skateboarder in Denver in an image made by photographer, Matt Alberts. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, haunting images and complicated, hands-on process.  "I’m creating something just with light and my hands," says Alberts. "It feels more like art." (AP Photo/Matt Alberts, Matt Alberts Photography)
  • In this image made by Euphus Ruth Jr. of Greenville, Miss., is Estill Baptist Church in Estill, Miss. Once a thriving church, it's no longer in use and slowly deteriorating at the edge of cotton fields, according to Ruth Jr.. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, haunting images and complicated, hands-on process. (AP Photo/Euphus Ruth Jr.)
  • In this image made by Euphus Ruth Jr. of Greenville, Miss., is Estill Baptist Church in Estill, Miss. Once a thriving church, it's no longer in use and slowly deteriorating at the edge of cotton fields, according to Ruth Jr.. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, haunting images and complicated, hands-on process. (AP Photo/Euphus Ruth Jr.)
  • This circa 1856 photo provided by courtesy of Matt Alberts shows Lowell Gilmore at age 25 with his wife, Mary Eliza Gilmore, age 19, at a sitting in Albany, N.Y.  During the past year Denver photographer Alberts learned the wet plate collodion process -- the same photographic process practiced by his ancestor, Lowell Gilmore, nearly 150 years ago. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, haunting images and complicated, hands-on process. (AP Photo/Courtesy Matt Alberts, Matt Alberts Photography)
  • This circa 1856 photo provided by courtesy of Matt Alberts shows Lowell Gilmore at age 25 with his wife, Mary Eliza Gilmore, age 19, at a sitting in Albany, N.Y.  During the past year Denver photographer Alberts learned the wet plate collodion process -- the same photographic process practiced by his ancestor, Lowell Gilmore, nearly 150 years ago. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, haunting images and complicated, hands-on process. (AP Photo/Courtesy Matt Alberts, Matt Alberts Photography)
  • This 2004 photo provided by Studio Q shows "Dusty, Riverdale, Utah," in a wet plate collodion image, made by Quinn Jacobson. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, even haunting, images. "The aesthetic is kind of a half-remembered dream," says Jacobson, a Denver photographer.  (AP Photo/ Studio Q, Quinn Jacobson)
  • This 2004 photo provided by Studio Q shows "Dusty, Riverdale, Utah," in a wet plate collodion image, made by Quinn Jacobson. Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, even haunting, images. "The aesthetic is kind of a half-remembered dream," says Jacobson, a Denver photographer.  (AP Photo/ Studio Q, Quinn Jacobson)
  • This photo provided by Studio Q shows "Skull Valley Massacre, 1864," an image by Quinn Jacobson that he took this month at Teepee Mountain in a valley West of Prescott, Ariz., where a group of Yavapai families were massacred by soldiers.  Wet plate collodion photography, invented in 1851, has experienced a resurge in recent years as photographers turn to this antiquated method for its moody, even haunting, images and complicated, hands-on process. "The aesthetic is kind of a half-remembered dream," says Jacobson, a Denver photographer. Jacobson, who is part Navajo, is documenting the sites where troops massacred Native Americans during the mid- to late 1800s.  (AP Photo/ Studio Q, Quinn Jacobson)

Frustrated by the ease with which digital photos can be taken and doctored, some artists are kicking it old school: They’ve revived wet plate collodion photography, a medium invented and popular during the mid-1800s.

Complicated, cumbersome (it requires darkroom work on the spot) and potentially hazardous, the collodion process uses raw chemicals in a race against the clock.

And that’s why collodion photographers love it so.

“There’s something about these hands-on, historical processes. You’re so in control, you’re making your film from scratch . . . (but) you’re subject to physics and the chemistry, and then you’re trying to make something in your mind’s eye – the composition and lighting – while maintaining this technical finesse,” says Quinn Jacobson, a Denver-based photographer. “There’s great satisfaction in accomplishing that. There’s a level of satiety that you don’t get from working in digital or even film.”

Collodion portraits and landscape images have fine details but appear dark and moody – even haunting or ghostly.

“The aesthetic is kind of a half-remembered dream,” says Jacobson.

The process involves coating a surface, usually glass or aluminum, with a mixture of collodion, ether, alcohol and two salts that dries to a tacky, clear film. The collodion is derived from a flammable compound known as guncotton (in other uses, it’s flash paper) dissolved in sulfuric and nitric acids.

The plate is made light-sensitive in a bath of silver nitrate, after which it is exposed to light. The image exposure can take seconds or several minutes, depending on available light and photographer preference. It’s developed and then fixed, or stabilized, in a solution of potassium cyanide. With longer exposure and an added step, a negative for printing can be made.

Of all the chemicals in the process, potassium cyanide is the most dangerous. “A tenth of a gram is enough to kill a horse,” says wedding photographer and collodion fan Matt Alberts. “There’s 18 grams in my fix. That’s kind of scary.”

Alberts, also of Denver, learned the collodion craft from Jacobson nearly a year ago. He was motivated partly by learning that his ancestor, Lowell Gilmore of Albany, N.Y., worked in the medium more than a century ago. Alberts has invested thousands of dollars in the collodion process, which for him captures the essence of photography.

“I’m creating something just with light and my hands. It feels more like art,” he says.

Jacobson makes portraits of the “marginalized” – day laborers, the homeless, convicted felons. In his Ghost Dance project, he also documents sites in the West where troops massacred Native Americans in the mid- to late 1800s. He’s concerned he won’t be able to capture the land’s terrible past, but thinks the moody collodion – in use during those times – will help.

“It adds that mystery and darkness and that kind of melancholy feel to the whole project,” says Jacobson. “I couldn’t do this in film or digital. They’d be straight-up landscapes.”

Alberts is documenting skateboarders, picking up images at skate parks around the Western United States. He says collodion photography “sees beneath the skin” of its subjects: “I often photograph ‘fringe’ people. Even though they have a rough exterior, they are some of the smartest, nicest people. Collodion shows how people really are not what people think they are.”

Photographer Euphus Ruth, meanwhile, makes his plates in the quiet fields and neglected cemeteries near his Greenville, Miss., home. He documents the decay of abandoned churches.

“It’s not for just anyone,” says Ruth. “It’s for people who like to slow down and methodically enjoy the process of making the photograph.”

A retired public utility worker, he has been making collodion images for eight years. He first learned how during a three-day retreat with John Coffer of Dundee, N.Y.

Jacobson, who has taught photography around the United States and Europe, helps Ruth and other “collodionists” by email and online at The Wet Plate Collodion Photography Forum, which has more than 5,000 members. Collodion photography, developed in 1851 by Frederick Scott Archer, was being practiced by only a handful of photographers 15 years ago, according to Jacobson.

Jacobson says a novice can expect to spend about $3,000 on collodion equipment and supplies, and two to five years learning the science and techniques. He recommends finding a good introductory workshop.

Ruth works out of the back of an old Cadillac hearse — his portable dark box slides out on casket rollers. Jacobson and Alberts rely on portable dark boxes, too. Online sites for buying them and other supplies include Wetplatewagon, Chamonix View Camera, Art Craft Chemicals and Chemsavers.

The process hooked Alberts immediately.

“The first time you pour it and you do the whole thing and you watch it come up, it’s like, ‘What?’ ” says Alberts. “That’s where the real magic happens.”

There are no comments yet. Be the first!
Post a Comment

You must be registered to comment on stories. Click here to register.