In Your Bag 1750 – RAOUL ENDRES

For this week’s “In Your Bag” we have a special one from Raoul. It is an “In Your Box’ focused on large format gear. This one is pretty detailed so I will let Raoul take over.

I’ve long followed the ‘In Your Bag’ series and whilst I’ve refined my personal large format gear down to essentials, I’d thought I’d take this in a different direction and talk about my box, that I call the Nassplattenfabrik (Wet Plate Factory).

The Collodion Wetplate process originated in the 1850’s and requires development within ~15 minutes while the chemistry is still wet. This necessitates having everything on hand, including a dark place to coat and process plates
of aluminum or glass.

I started wetplate as a way to completely eliminate digital from the workflow, and also to ensure long term viability of my analogue photography hobby – largely to reduce the dependence on film and chemistry requiring financially viable manufacturing processes.

The Box

I built my dark-box over the space of a few weeks. It is used for storage, transport and processing.
Build details can be found here

(the black stains are silver nitrate that has reacted to sunlight)

The bottom door has two light proof arm-holes. The top window is a Lee gel filter to block UV and blue light. Wet plate is about ISO 5, so you can work under a lot of red-light.

There is built in shelving/storage for working with dry/wet materials at the same time.


During typical use, I have (from left to right):
 Silver tank (with lid to make it light tight).
 Collodion for creating the medium for the silver to bind to. This is poured onto the plate and excess is allowed to run off. This is a key step that affects the quality of the final image.
 (on shelf above) sensitized plates are loaded into plate holder for use in camera.
 (after image is taken) beaker for the small amount of developer used (~10ml). The developer is thrown onto.
the plate and rocked back and forth before being washed off.
 water bottle for stopping development; the grey tray for catching this run off.
 white tray with water acting similarly to a wash bath. At this point the image is light safe.

Development is done by inspection; you watch for the image to appear as the highly active developer works. This is around 15 seconds. Shutter speed and/or development time can be used to adjust final exposure and contrast.

The use of yellow paint is on purpose. This reflects the least amount of blue light which thus maximizes the amount of red light you have to work with. The paint is really thick on the bottom as silver nitrate is highly corrosive to metal
and wood.

Once developed, plates go into a standard fixer where they turn into a false positive image – this is the best part of the process. I’m in no way inclined to use the traditional potassium cyanide for this step!

Washing is in a tray of running water. I’ve modified a 12×16 tray with dividers for my 4×5 plates.

Preparing / Finishing Plates

When using glass, this needs to be super clean. Alcohol and a mixture of chalk and water is used to make sure the glass is totally clean. An egg white (yes) mixture can be used to provide an adhesive border for the collodion to stick to more easily.

After washing, plates are dried and heated before a coating in varnish. This stops sulphites in the air from affecting the image and protects the delicate collodion film. Plates should last a good couple of hundred years based on
examples from the 1850’s.

Recommendation and Considerations

 This process requires a lot of DIY to get started.

 The image is made in camera; the size of the final image is dictated by the size of the camera, unless you want to scan and print digitally… that said, I’ve made cool images in 1920’s Box Brownies, and plenty of examples of 35mm cameras being used.

 Chemicals need respect. Stay away from potassium cyanide, modern fixers work almost as well, with none of the lethality.

 Definitely worth doing a workshop or finding a mentor. A few of the steps require a bit of practice and there are a whole lot of things that require problem solving

 Lastly, silver can get expensive! If you thought Portra was pricey, maybe reconsider this…

I like to tinker with analogue photography, particularly wet plate collodion with my Tachihara. I prefer the physical medium to Instagram, but can be found on twitter @raoulendres.


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