Blog Post | Historical & Alternative Processes by Paul Ellis
In an age of digital perfection and digital reproduction there are many artists who look backwards and sideways to create something new and different. Many look to historical and alternative photographic processes as an antidote to digital perfection, exchanging computer for darkroom, perfection for the unpredictable, machine made for hand made.
To many, alternative processes are alchemy. Weighing and mixing raw chemicals, coating papers, exposing papers to sunlight, washing, fixing and toning the final image to create a one-off – a unique and irreproducible image. The antithesis of digital photography.
There are numerous alternative and historical photographic processes ranging from the downright weird, such as Herschel’s breath process (the developer is your breath!) to the irrefutably magical (the Daguerreotype). But two of the most prestigious, sitting on the highest perch, that seem to encapsulate all that we desire from alternative processes (the marriage of craft, patience and fascination) are the Wet-Plate Collodion and Platinum Printing processes.. and they couldn’t be more different.
Wet-Collodion requires a comprehensive list of equipment and an analytical mind in order to sensitise, expose and develop a plate in around 15 minutes. With its resurgence there is a new wave of photographers utilising large fast lenses (Wet-Collodion has an ISO of 1) combined with large format cameras (the Ultra Large Format community) and a tenacious zeal to use this process on location (some convert a van into a darkroom – some even convert a van into a camera/darkroom) to produce their Tintypes (metal plates) and Ambrotypes (glass plates) whilst on the road.
Platinum Printing also has its diehard fanatics, attracted to the process because of its extraordinary tonal scale, delicacy and incredible stability. Platinum Printing requires similar attention to detail, from humidity levels, to Drop Counting the working solution.
Yet both engage and absorb us in similar ways and encapsulate the slippery slope that is alternative and historical processes. If you’d like to join us on our journey of rediscovery, you can take part in one of our upcoming Historical and Alternative Processes courses: