After attending the Lens of Impressionism artist tour with writer/photographer France Scully Osterman, I found myself wanting to learn more about the wet plate collodion process. I also wanted the chance to view some of the work from Ms. Osterman’s series, Sleep, and hear from the artist herself about the thought and inspiration behind the series. So I headed back over to the Dallas Museum of Art the following evening to sit in on the artist talk with France, who demonstrated each step in the wet plate collodion process, both by a live demonstration and by PowerPoint.
Collodion was first formulated in 1846 to be used as a medical dressing. It’s a highly flammable, syrupy solution made from pyroxylin, ether and alcohol. The wet plate collodion process was invented by Frederick Scott Archer in 1851. The solution is poured onto clean glass plates, then placed in a bath of silver nitrate to sensitize them. This process can produce multiple images from a single negative with speed and consistency.
To the left is Sleeping (Husband), one of the images from 1997 in Ms. Osterman’s series, Sleep. This photograph was taken of Mark, France’s husband, using the wet plate collodion process while he really was sleeping.
Next to it is Laszlo and Carole (2002). The couple had broken up six months earlier and hadn’t seen much of each other during that time. France said that it made for a very romantic situation and quite charming in that they both showed up at the door in their pajamas.
Please enjoy the above video about the wet plate collodion process.