Since Olan Mills was closed last week, Amanda and I drove to an ambrotypist in Bowling Green, KY to have our family portrait made. The supremely kind Tim Parson has been doing this authentic late-1800’s photo process since the early 2000’s. He’s self-taught and does it mostly out of his love for history. Peruse some of his work and see for yourself how very cool it is.
Although I DID have my soul captured by a 150 year-old-camera, I’m not exactly an expert on the wet collodion photography process. Instead, I will direct you to the Wikipedia page for the very specifics. But in short, it is this: a piece of glass is coated with light-sensitive chemicals and placed in the back of a box camera. The exposure onto the wet glass can be several seconds long, depending on available light (in our case, it was seven… and our 2-year-old child was still for all seven of them… amazing). After the exposure is made, the plate of glass is removed from the camera and taken to a makeshift darkroom where it is developed, washed, dried and a varnish is applied. Then, voila:
For the record, my all-time favorite photograph.
The process took about two hours from the coating of the first glass until each dried, varnished product was in our hands. I didn’t document the entire process thoroughly because I was busy taking it all in, but here are a few excerpts from our Back To The Future 3-style trip into the late 1800’s:
The above photo is of my great-great-great grandfather, Reason Wilson Jerkins in 1861. This is the only ambrotype of my family that I’ve ever run across. Thanks to distant cousin Ben Barrington for allowing me to photograph it.