Photography, Fine Art, Wet Plate Collodion, Alternative photography

Wet Plate problems with un-pure AgNO3

with 3 comments

Maja Smrekar, an artist portrayed for Mladina weekly.

Unfortunately I’m making this portraits on no-budget and I don’t have a studio access in Ljubljana so I improvise. This portrait we’ve done in a Tivoli park. Unfortunately you can’t see the full set up, since I clean it up already when I took this photograph, but you can imagine me lying on the ground and Maja leaning over me. Flash with a softbox was illuminating her.

Recently I’ve bought 200g of AgNO3 on ebay and on Saturday everything worked fine, then I mixed new solution and added to the old solution and suddenly I couldn’t make a decent picture! On Sunday I was making a portrait of an artist Maja Smrekar, who mixed her genome with an enzyme that is making yoghurt and my idea was to make a portrait of her as a scientist / alchemist. Perfect motif in a wet plate collodion technique, but I was getting only fog! Luckily I still know how to shoot digital 🙂

On the bottom of this post there is a test plate and clearly it’s a silver bath problem. I was pounding my head what could go wrong and I was testing everything, although I knew it’s a silver bath issue. On Friday I had a commission to do a family wet plate portrait and I’ve told them I could do it only on film and digital, but on Friday I’ve woke up at 3:30 am with an idea to make the last attempt in saving my poor wet plate soul. I’ve put my AgNO3 solution on a cooker and boiled it, so 80% of the solution would evaporate. I woke up at 6am and 99% of solution evaporated. I wondered if I ruined the solution, but after adding new fresh distilled water and filter it, everything was working fine. I was starting to get lovely clean plates again and I’ve done the commission also with wet plate technique.

After I published the experience on FB, the legend of 19th Century photography techniques, Mark Osterman of Eastman Kodak museum warn me and I’m passing his words: “Be careful boiling down to dry crystals. They are difficult to dissolve and if there is any trace of ammonia you’ll have fulminate of silver…. a percussive explosive. :-0”

This is my best result of a wet plate portrait of Maja, after an hour and a half of trying…

This is a test plate with stripes of exposure times and clearly it’s a silver bath problem. Obviously the new purchased silver nitrate was not 99% pure!


3 Responses

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  1. I’m glad you were able to resolve the issue, would hate to think that you had done the shoot and not have it turn out. The shot of Maja is fabulous and the POV is definitely unique!

    Douglas Bawden Photography

    29 October, 2012 at 05:43

  2. I’m glad you solved the problem too, your wet plates are exquisite, can’t stop looking at them, pieces of art!


    29 October, 2012 at 10:18

  3. Today I’m shooting another wet plate portrait. I hope it’ll work 🙂

    Borut Peterlin

    29 October, 2012 at 10:34

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