Thursday, April 9, 2009

Old school photography

A friend forwarded me an article from Wired that describes how John Coffer, who lives in a rural cabin in New York state, makes a living taking pictures using technology that was around during the American Civil war.

His pictures have become popular in the art-house circuit now which has mystified him.

"Coffer's chosen technique is called wet plate because the photographic plate must stay wet throughout the process of shooting and developing. The plate is coated with collodion -- a flammable, light-sensitive potion historically used to seal wounds -- and then dipped in silver nitrate solution."

While it's still wet, Coffer slips the plate into a lightproof plate holder. He carries the plate to the camera, removes the dark slide protecting the plate from light, and shoots the photo by removing the lens cap for about five seconds. The scene and focus must be determined before the plate is brought to the camera. No last-minute adjustments are possible.

Film photography is all but dead in the USA. Members of our camera club are gradually moving to digital and, although you hear people getting into photography express an interest in learning how to use film for the sake of the art, I can't imagine that it will be long before you can't buy film any more.

It is interesting that an old art form like this has generated so much interest.  It almost feels more like someone has discovered an artist who does unusal etchings than a photographer.  The process that he goes to (all home grown) really does justify that conclusion - this is really old school and wonderfully inventive.

Some of his images are really beautiful.... the camera body that he uses is also home-made!

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