Wet plate collodion is one of the earliest forms of photography. Frederick Scott Archer has been credited with inventing this historic process back in 1848. The process became very popular worldwide but then quickly died off in the 1880's when a more convenient way of taking photographs was invented. In recent years there has been a small revival of the process when a number of contemporary photographers decided to go back to the roots of photography and embrace the old. Making a wet plate can be difficult, timely, costly, unpredictable, and requires a high degree of commitment. The images can be captured on glass (ambrotype) or on metal (tin type). The word Ambrotype is translated in Ancient Greek as "Immortal Impression". Digital photography of today relies on technology, wet plate photography relies on 160 year old chemistry and a bit of magic and some luck.
A wet plate photographer makes a film base on a piece of glass or metal using collodion, submerges it in a silver nitrate solution to make it light sensitive, and then exposes the photograph usually in an old style wood bellows camera box and antique brass lens from the 1800's. The process is called wet plate because during the entire process the chemicals on the plates must remain wet and cannot be allowed to dry. The end result is a one-of-a-kind, archival object of art that will last many lifetimes. There are wet plates of Abraham Lincoln that look just as good today as they did a century and a half ago. It is thought that less than 1000 people worldwide carry on the tradition of wet plate today and most of those individuals are professional photographers at the height of their career. Each and every day the world is filled with millions and millions of digital photographs that have no value, character, significance or physical form, that is not the case with each and every wet plate. The wet plate process is magical and the end result is tangible and precious.
Shane Balkowitsch, Ambrotypist
4419 Centurion Dr.
Bismarck, ND 58504