Mark Osterman began research in historic photographic processes while attending the Kansas City Art Institute in the 1970s and for twenty years, taught fine art photography at George School, Newtown, PA. In his current position, he researches and teaches the technical evolution of photography for the Center for the Legacy of Photography at George Eastman House International Museum of Photography in Rochester, NY. Osterman's most recent writings on the subject of historic photographic processes include the 19th century chapter for the Focal Encyclopedia of Photography (2007) and a chapter on making gelatin emulsions for the Book of Alternative Photographic Processes, by Christopher James (2008). France Scully Osterman is an artist, teacher, and guest scholar at George Eastman House. She runs Scully & Osterman Skylight Studio in Rochester, NY, where she also teaches workshops and private tutorials. She is recognized for her knowledge of historic processes, most notably, wet-plate collodion, salt and albumen prints, and for the long list of accomplished artists who have studied with her. In 1991, the couple formed Scully & Osterman. Together, they co-published the quarterly publication The Collodion Journal (1995-2002), and have given lectures, demonstrations and workshops throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Japan and Europe. As artists and writers, their work has been featured in Photography's Antiquarian Avant-Garde, The New Wave in Old Process Photography by Lyle Rexer, Coming into Focus by John Barnier, The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes by Christopher James (both editions), Le Vocabulaire Technique de la Photographie by Anne Cartier-Bresson (2008) and the third edition of Photographic Possibilities, by Robert Hirsch (2009). Their images are in the collections of the Museum of Fine Art, Houston; The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City; George Eastman House International Museum of Photography, Rochester; Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin; Museum of Western Virginia, Roanoke; Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca; Michener Museum, Doylestown, PA and numerous private collections. The Ostermans are represented by Howard Greenberg Gallery, NYC and Tilt Gallery, Phoenix, AZ.
|The Lure Of Collodion - Developing the Plate|
|The Lure Of Collodion - Ambrotypes|
|The Lure Of Collodion - Modern Times|
Ask The Experts
Hello, I learned the wet plate collodion process from Will Dunniway 1.5 years ago. Now I am working on perfecting glass negatives to print in various ways. When I intensify the negatives, how much rinsing time is required between the bleach and the silver solution? I think I was rinsing too much because the silver wouldnt take hold on some parts of the neg, but now I might not be rinsing enough because when my negatives dry, there is a rainbow effect on some parts of the negative and also some brown staining occasionally? Also, how long of a rinse is required after you apply the silver solution? Thank you very much! Roxanne G
Dear Roxanne, Your hunch is correct. Washing the bleached plate too much will hamper the depositing step of intensification. Just wash the plate for a few seconds in still water before treating it with silver or sulfide. You should know however, that the intensifying method for gaining density was used more for negatives of line art where a gradient of tone wasnt required. Its not a very forgiving process. The most popular method of gaining density in foundation negatives during the wet collodion era was actually redevelopment. Unlike intensification, redevelopment allows a steady controllable gain in density to any degree. Plates are fixed as usual and washed thoroughly. They are then flowed with a solution of tincture of iodine with agitation followed by a washing step. The plate is then exposed to light and developed with either pyro or iron developer and a few drops of silver nitrate. The developer is poured onto the surface of the plate with agitation. Fresh developer and silver is renewed as the old developer turns turbid. After redeveloping, the plate is fixed for a minute in very dilute fixer and washed very carefully in running water for no less than ten minutes. The technique can take about 10-20 minutes depending on the density of the original plate. A good printable negative is well worth the wait.
Hi France and Mark, I really like your work. My name is Gabe and Im currently a Photo student at the Art institute of Colorado. I shoot portraits using an 8x10 view camera and make Platinum/ Palladium prints with the Negatives. I want to learn the Wet plate Collodion Process next. Usually I like to use Tungsten hot lights on my subject with the lens wide open when shooting on film. My exposure time is usually about an 8th of a second or faster depending on how close the light is to the subject. My question is first can I use these same lights to make wet plate glass negatives and if so what would the exposure time be? If not, what lights would I need or would my only option be to use window light? Thank You, Gabe
Hello Gabe, Good to hear from you. You will find that the exposures for wet collodion plates, particularly negatives, will be much longer than modern films. Given a choice, we would use natural light. In lieu of that, halogen or metal halide studio lamps would be the way to go with artificial light. Even then, with pleasing lighting, you probably will be making exposures upwards of 40 seconds or more for a negative destined to be used for platinum printing. Best wishes,
Hello, I am trying to get started making wet plate negatives and ambrotypes and cant find information about approximate exposure times or equivalent ISO ratings for sensitized plates. If you could offer any feedback, it would be most appreciated. Thanks. Brendan
Brendan, The ISO varies for collodion, but generally it is about 1.0. The silver particle is very fine, which is why it is light in color. Negatives require more exposure than positives, plus longer development with a weaker developer. My suggestion is to start with positives (ambrotypes or tintypes). Heres how to get started: Set up a still life by a large window which has clear glass (i.e. not coated to protect from UV) and use a reflector to fill in on the other side. Choose your subject carefully. Do not choose warm objects (e.g. apples, oranges or lemons) as they are more difficult. Try something easy like a light colored wicker basket. Do not do a portrait when you are doing tests, as you will need your subject all day! (...You still want your friend speaking to you after this?) You will make a number of exposures while keeping your development the same amount of time. We like a 15 second development for positives. (Count as you develop.) Do not change anything except exposure time. I dont know what lens you are using, but, for example, with a portrait lens I would use a large Waterhouse stop (1.5 inches) or shoot wide open; and try: 5, 10, 20 and 40 seconds. Keep going if necessary but really this should be enough. This can be very informative. Hope you found this helpful. Good luck! Best regards,
Hello, I just purchased an old Star Premo folding 1/4 plate camera which came with plate holders (double dark slide style). Can these holders be used for wet plate, or do I need to find (or make) a specific holder for the wet process? Ive searched the web a bit but have yet to find info on this. Thanks, Jim
Hello Jim, The old premo cameras are beautifully built, but very light duty. The plate holders, designed for factory made dry plates, can be adapted for wet plate but they will not stand up to heavy use. If you are good with your hands, you can take them apart, remove the cardstock septum and insert some stiff silver wires to hold the wet plate by the corners. Best regards,
Hi, Im interested in wet plate photography. I would like to buy these camera and try to expose the wet plate. Can you help me? http://www.talbotworkshops.co.uk/photos/Dawn-of-Photography-10/IMG_7378_0430.JPG Thanks, Nuril
Dear Nuril, Im sorry that it was confusing. Our body of work, The Light at Lacock; Sun Sketches at the Twilight of Photography, features the earliest negative process called photogenic drawing, invented by Wm. Henry Fox Talbot in 1835. I made those cameras for our work and they are not for sale. They are not designed for the wet plate process as the focusing is done by actually looking through a hole into the camera and focusing on the sensitive material. This is only possible with photogenic drawings or similar slow printing-out processes. You might be interested to know that France and I will be teaching that same photogenic drawing process at the Fox Talbot Museum at Lacock Abbey (England) in several weeks and if you were able to attend there is an opening. As a participant you will not only make images where negative photography was invented, but youll be given a very nice replica wood and brass camera to take home. I built the prototype and the cameras are based on the same cameras used by Talbot in the 1830s. Please feel free to contact me for more information. This is not just a workshop but a rare opportunity to do a process where it was invented at the dawn of photography. Best Regards,
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