BY: JESSICA BEUKER
Photographer Paul Alsop lives on the island of New Zealand, where finding anything ‘wet plate’ related is a mission. There is no online community, such as eBay, to search for old supplies, and the chemicals have to be mixed by hand from a local do-it-yourself store. Yet Alsop has always found creative ways around his photography problems.
One such problem came when Alsop no longer had a proper darkroom to make and develop his photos. According to his post on Bored Panda, he used his home garage for a couple of years, but after selling his house and moving into a rental, he had to put an end to the messy wet plate projects.
One of the great things about photography is that you can take it anywhere, and capture breathtaking moments as they happen. With wet plate photography however, the situation becomes a bit trickier. If the wet plate dries out, then the plate becomes completely useless, which means you need a mobile darkroom if you wish to take your passion to the road.
Alsop used a transportable hydroponics tent for a while, but said it was flimsy and small to work in. So instead he found a 1970s retro bubble caravan and renovated it into a mobile darkroom. It was the perfect solution, as he can take it anywhere, and it is his own space to make a mess in.
The project took Alsop five weeks from start to finish, and then Rubylith was born. He named the caravan Rubylith, after the red filter used on darkroom safe lights.
Before and After the Renovations
The process of wet plate photography is not easy. Invented in 1851, it is the third oldest form of photography and is far from the convenience of digital technology. According to this step-by-step guide to wet plate photography, the mixture used requires a soluble iodide, which is added to a solution of collodion and then poured over a glass plate. In the darkroom the plate is immersed in silver nitrate, before it is ready to be used to shoot. After the photo is taken, the plate gets taken out of the film holder in the darkroom, and covered with developer until the image appears. This entire process needs to happen within a timeframe of 15 minutes.
Wet Plate Photographs Created by Alsop Within His Mobile Darkroom
Alsop prefers this method of photography to the fast and accessible trend of digital photography. On his website he states: “In a world of ubiquitous image overload, the wet plate process slows you down, releases you from the constraints of control and takes you the tactile relationship with the physical object that is ‘the photograph’.
All photos ©Paul Alsop