WARNING – DON’T READ IF YOU HAVEN’T A HEAD FOR CHEMICAL REACTIONS
Wet-collodion process, also called collodion process, is an early photographic technique invented by Englishman Frederick Scott Archer in 1851. 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 iodine. 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 potassium cyanide was later substituted. Immediate developing and fixing were necessary because, after the collodion film had dried, it became waterproof and the reagent solutions could not penetrate it. The process was valued for the level of detail and clarity it allowed. A modification of the process, in which an underexposed negative was backed with black paper or velvet to form what was called an ambrotype, became very popular from the mid-to late 19th century, as did a version on black lacquered metal known as a tintype, or ferrotype.
No, I definitely went glassy eyed at the above. It sounds complicated and reportedly is. Film, of course, made it and other early processes quickly obsolete. If you’re a mere pointer and shooter, as I am, you’d be so pleased to see the end of the wastefulness of snapping to your heart’s content with film. I could never afford to do that pre-digitally – now I can.
But there are a growing posse of camerasmiths around the world going back to film – some in fact never left it behind. A smaller group are going way retro – back to the early days of the art and the processes, as well as the equipment, that marked the early years. One such is a revival of wet-collodion.
I found Ray Bidegain first, then via a link, Jody Ake. Now, when looking at their images, it takes some time to realise what is logical – that one is indeed looking at contemporary work. Then there’s the automatic jump to the conclusion that what they achieve is down to the gee-wizardry of Photoshop, or something equivalent. But no, these two have gone right back to the source. They are – and do excuse my use of this word – authentic.
Jody Ake uses the process for his – yes, his despite the name – gorgeous portraits, still lifes, nudes and landscapes. – even to the degree of painstakingly mixing all the above chemicals. Initially he trained at the University of Oregon and later moved to NYC to explore his potential in the photographic industry of the big smoke, but now resides back in Portland. The deaths of three close friends in an accident twenty years ago, followed by a near death experience of his own, behind the wheel of a car, only a few months later, caused him to reassess his life and his values. He claims he still feels guilty over his survival, but sees the laborious way he goes about his photography calms him and is a salve to his pain. He claims a camera takes one under the surface of reality and this is therapeutic as it ‘…can see more than the naked eye, moving us past our persona and catching a glimpse of who we actually are.’
Now, to me, that’s just so much hairy-fairy, mumbo-psycho-babble until one looks at his output – then you could think there is actually something to it. Atmospheric, with a degree of the intangible, his is sure an eye-catchingly stark and beautiful product.
As is Bidegain’s, who also works using a platinum plate technique in conjunction. Both artists have images held in galleries around the Americas and beyond, also exhibiting on a regular basis. As their hometown is also shared, presumably they are known to each other. Ray B’s oeuvre has been described as exuding a ‘…glow as from an inner light.’
Initially he was a wedding photographer, a job Ray eventually found didn’t offer him the challenges he craved. So he spread his wings and began toying with old redundant processes and now has great acclaim for his mastery of them. He spends much time passing on his knowledge of these outmoded ways so they are not lost forever. To him, his images ‘…serve as visual reminders of moments and feelings I have experienced, signifying both the passage of time and the reverberation of consistency in all our lives.’
Yes, his work does have an inner peace about it, soothing the eye of those who will come and gaze and wonder about what we may have lost with the world so maniacally speeding up since his methods were in vogue. Inner peace, the old ways – should be more of it I reckon. Peering at the works of Bidegain and Ake are a positive advertisement for that notion.
Jody Ake’s website = http://www.jodyake.com/
Ray Bidegain’s website = http://www.rbstudio.com/