It’s messy, smelly and easy to stuff up but photographer Steve Lovegrove loves every minute of it.
He’s embraced the art of wet plate collodion photography, a method developed and used in the 1800s which is undergoing a bit of a revival in the art photography world.
What is wet plate collodion photography?
- Collodion is a syrupy solution of pyroxylin in ether or alcohol and was first used to keep surgical dressings in place.
- In 1851, Frederick Scott Archer and Gustave Le Gray simultaneously discovered collodion could be used for photography.
- When used for photography, the collodion is spread on glass or tin plates, dipped in silver nitrate and exposed to ultraviolet light to develop an image.
- When used on clear glass it produces a negative image, known as ambrotype, and that negative can be used to make multiple prints.
- When a black backing is added it makes a positive, one-off image that cannot be replicated.
- Collodion on tin is often called tintype or ferrotype.
“The process is still maddeningly frustrating, it’s messy, and when I’m making the little tins I probably only have a 50 per cent success rate,” Mr Lovegrove said.
“[But] there’s smell and there’s touch and those things appeal to me.”
Mr Lovegrove has worked as a photographer for 37 years, starting with film and moving into digital as the technology evolved.
“When digital came along I embraced digital photography … but over time I found I was spending far more time in front of a computer than I was making work,” he said.
“I really missed the tactile, hands-on physicality of making bespoke, handmade photography.”
Keen to get away from the computer more, Mr Lovegrove did a workshop trying the wet plate collodion method.
“That taste was enough for me to go, ‘Yeah, this is what I want to do’.”
He said he preferred to make one-off images that cannot be repeated.
“What I’m really trying to embrace is the perfection of the handmade image, and who cares if it’s not perfect? Nothing is perfect.
“To be able to not make the same thing twice is very appealing and to not know exactly how it’s going to come out until I turn the light back on.”
Mr Lovegrove’s darkroom is filled with various found objects, from tiny spiders to bird skeletons and bits of plants.
“I am a total hoarder,” he said.
“I collect stuff. I wander along the riverbank and I pick up odd and disgusting things because I think they look cool and I think they’ll make interesting photos.
“I have things I’ve stored here for 10 years or more and they never worked as digital images. And even as straight film they weren’t saying to me what I wanted.
“This was the process that could express what I saw in these objects.”
Using his found objects, Mr Lovegrove created a series of images in small vintage tins which he exhibited at the Revela-T Contemporary Analog Photography Festival in Barcelona last year.
“There’s a massive revival in analogue photography and film photography, especially in Europe,” he said.
Mr Lovegrove now has an exhibition, called Perfect Imperfect — The beauty of death, decay and accident, at the Studio Gallery at Salamanca Arts Centre until the end of January.