Retouching of wet plate collodion negative
A month ago I was in George Eastman House in Rochester on a workshop of glass negative retouching. I made a personal resolution to do a pilgrimage to GEH once a year, as it’s was very inspiring experience to learn from fantastic mentors, Mark Osterman and Nick Brandreth . Furthermore at these workshops you are invited in the GEH’s collection where examples from history of photography are presented.
Retouching basically means drawing and I do not know how to draw or better I have still much to learn about drawing. Nevertheless I’m satisfied with the results presented in the video. Of course, retouching of eyes is the most difficult thing, but my clumsy retouching is what makes the image scary. If you look at the albumen print from a retouched negative, you would never guessed that it’s retouched, if you would not see it doing and if you were not an expert in retouching. I trust my wife’s opinion, she is very cruel in her judgement toward my work and she said it’s OK. And her opinion with all due respecte overrates Mark Osterman’s opinion, which I know it’ll be critical. I totally follow his teaching, but on the aesthetic point of view we often respectfully disagree. I love his work, perfect in any view, but you see my character is different. I’m not a tidy person, I don’t find my plates messy. I could make them totally technically perfect, but I welcome some stains on corners of my plates. Like my sink, it’s not dirty! It simply isn’t! Yes it does has many silver stains and I will not clean them with aggressive chemicals, because that would just be Sisyphus’s work! So under topshit doctrine, cleaning a sink basically means irresponsible pollution of environment and consequently burning in hell! Ha!!!
Where was I?
I learned a lot at this workshop. Like I’ve down hundreds of salt prints already, but observing Mark making salt prints I’ve learned many small tricks. One of it is the following. For sensitising salt paper we usually use cotton ball and then we trow it away. What Mark does is after senzibilisation he squeezes the remaining silver nitrate into a jar and then recover this polluted silver. How brilliant is that?! Just think how much silver nitrate is thrown away with filtering, sensitising and so on? In a month time with this practice I saved almost one decilitre of silver nitrate! I can’t write all the tips & tricks I’ve learned from Mark, since that would be more suitable for a book, then a blog 🙂
Let me finish this blogpost with a very comforting information that if with retouching you screw up the negative, you can undo it! For instance. If you add too much graphite on your negative, you can wipe it away with fine powder of a cuttle fish. That’s the white powder I was using in the video. With it you can remove unwanted retouching. You can also do the more drastic measure like removing whole varnish from the negative and with it the mistake you’ve made. Remember, the retouching is not happening on the collodion, but on the varnish.
That’s the main difference between dry silver-gelatine negatives and collodion negatives. Silver-gelatine negative can be scratched into emulsion whereas collodion has very very thin layer of silver (that’s what it makes it the sharpest photography medium ever) and if you would try to scratch silver from collodion negative, you would scratch it right trough.
So, Mark gave me also information on collodion-chloride paper and when I was at home, I try it, but I haven’t dry the paper sufficiently and the collodion-chloride paper got stuck on the collodion negative. I basically ruin it, the negative can not be used anymore. Then I took alcohol, diluted it to 85% and start washing the negative in the alcohol. The varnish dissolved and with it also collodion-chloride emulsion. This is not the work for light hearted one, because you can easily ruin the negative, especially if the collodion used for the negative was old. Old collodion is fragile and lost it’s flexibility and therefor it’s very fragile. There was a small chance that Mark was using very old collodion, so I washed the varnish away and revarnished the plate again. Now I can retouch it again.
The two photographs that I’ve made are available for purchase on Ebay. I added also the third one, but this one is from unretouched negative. I made it later then the video, my wife says that it’s my best photograph and so it is. You don’t want to argue with my wife, OK? Trust me on this one!!!
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