Alchemy And Art | Into It

A wet collodion photograph is alchemy and art combined in a hand-crafted process My name is David Gillanders and I’m a documentary photographer I suppose I really became interested in photography when I was about 13-14 years old through a love of boxing All of the gyms and clubs that I used to train in had black and white portraits Photographs of people who were my boxing icons at that time I started to take pictures of boxing I suppose when I got a bit fed up of being punched in the face And then much later in life, a friend gave me a small black glass ambrotype It was this beautiful object that you could hold in your hands

It was from the 1800s It had a history I felt connected to the history and basically googled ‘black glass photograph’ and found this crazy process the wet collodion process that has taken over my life ever since You make a wet photographic emulsion onto glass, black metal, anything really and you expose that to light and before the wet photographic emulsion dries you need to develop it, fix it and varnish it to make it permanent The collodion process does use chemicals, which are considered dangerous We use a potassium cyanide fixer so you’ve got to be respectful of the chemistry that you’re using, if you want to use the chemistry that they used back in the 1800s When you develop the plate and wash it, it then becomes safe to view it in normal light and you’re left with that kind of latent blue negative that when you put into the potassium cyanide fixes and reveals the picture And that’s a magical, really magical moment But I also really like the final stage, the varnishing stage It’s I suppose the stage in the whole process where it can go most wrong You can have a fantastic beautiful picture that you see disappear because the varnishing isn’t right You heat the plate over a naked flame and you pour on a lavender oil varnish and heat that to set the varnish It creates an amazing smell and when it all works well, you’re left with a beautiful hand varnished, handmade photographic image that will last for over a hundred years The point is that when you invest that time, when you invest that energy when you commit yourself to something that you’re making and it works it’s beautiful