A Decade of Wet Plate
Thanks to Facebook memories, I was reminded that I made my first wet plate photograph ten years ago today. A decade of the wet plate process! Wow, where did that time go?
I remember back in 2012 that I was feeling lost in my photography. I was uninspired with digital photography and the ‘sameness’ of the images. I longed for my photographic roots of the darkroom, of film developing, and of printing. I wanted that tangible, tactile, physical experience of image making that I began my photographic journey with. I didn’t have access to a darkroom those days, so I was stuck with digital image making, or so I thought.
At the time I was trying to find my artistic direction and was reading Julia Cameron’s book, ‘The Artist's Way’, and one of the suggestions in the book was to go on ‘artist dates’. I decided to go on an artist date and visit a little photography gallery called Luz, operated by local photographer and artist, Quinton Gordon. While I was there I saw a poster for a wet plate workshop. I was intrigued and inquired about it. I got some information and thought, well, this is going back to my roots, and then some… I asked to get signed up. Unfortunately, this workshop was full. I got on a waiting list for the next class, which, in hindsight, actually worked out in my favour.
The workshop I ended up taking was with Jody Ake at Luz’s new studio. I fell in love with the process immediately. I decided there and then that I was going all in and ordered my first wet plate kit from Bostick & Sullivan. That was November 2012.
My First Ever Tintype
My chemistry arrived in December of 2012. The chemicals sat in the packaging they arrived in until January 2013. I was too intimidated to try this new process without the guiding hand of Jody, my fearless instructor. Then the day came when the curiosity of the process overcame the fear of blowing myself up. I set up the chemistry and got ready to give it a go.
Let me tell you, it was a very frustrating start. I couldn’t make a plate to save my life. I think I burned through a dozen plates without getting an image at all. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, success! I did it, I was so excited. I made three more 'successful' plates that day. I was fully hooked and convinced that I should continue with this endeavour. I’m glad I did.
My First 3 successful plates outside of the workshop environment
The good plates began to outnumber the bad ones. Soon I was at the point where I could get out into the wild with my new found process.
Over the past ten years I have made a number of portraits and landscape views. I did a fantastic portrait project called ‘Of Land & Sea’ where I traveled the length and breadth of Vancouver Island making plates of farmers, harvesters, and food producers. This project culminated in a book and two solo gallery shows, one in Duncan, BC and one in Victoria, BC.
'Big Lonely Doug'
I have had several plates admitted into the Sooke Fine Art Show, one winning best photography in 2013.
I’ve led workshops in Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Nanaimo, Victoria, and even in the coastal rainforest of western Vancouver Island.
I have done demonstrations for school groups, camera clubs, and even a local 4H group.
I have had my plates used for advertising for a hair salon, and my work has also appeared on album and book covers.
I’ve done a large portrait project called ‘Broken’, exploring mental health and the ways people may feel broken within themselves.
From 'The Broken Project
Working in this process has been an interesting journey, one with its fair share of frustrations, disappointments and incredible challenges. But it's also a process that can be incredibly rewarding.
I enjoy meeting people through this medium, whether they are with me for a workshop, be they passersby while I'm out shooting in the woods, or through a relaxed portrait experience where we really take time to get to know each other and make some meaningful portraits and memories that will last a lifetime. If there is one take-away that I have learned in 10 years of working with this process, it is that it demands time. Time to really slow down, to be present with yourself, with the gear, and most importantly, with your subject.
Now with a studio in one of Canada's oldest artist-run-centres to work in, I look forward to continued opportunities to create new work in this medium, and to explore more possibilities as I slowly unlock new levels in this ever demanding and most inconvenient way to make a picture.
Perhaps one day you will find yourself in front of my lens, until that day, take care.