Sainik Farms-based photographer and visual artist Sarang Sena’s tryst with photography happened when he was a child. His father, a professor, would travel around the country, capturing his favourite segments from the places he would visit, and later get the negatives developed. During his vacations, Sena’s father would get all family members seated in a room and project the photographs he had clicked “I think that’s how the interest in photography happened,” says the 36-year-old photographer. In fact, Sena’s first self-clicked photograph was through his father’s Nikon F401s (film camera). After years of working as a commercial photographer and a photojournalist, Sena decided to revisit the places he visited with his father as a child. “I wanted to explore those spaces but, at the same time, I wanted to decide what medium I’d like to explore this idea with.” This is when Sena stumbled upon the collodion wet-plate process that he currently works with through his latest project, C (See) Y (Why) Studios.
Revisiting an age-old process
The wet-plate collodion is a 170-year-old photographic technique theorised by French painter Gustave Le Gray and invented by English photographer Fredrick Scott Archer that replaced the daguerreotype—the first publicly available photographic process. Over decades, despite developments in photography, many practitioners have experimented with this process and refined it further.
Photographs made using this analogue process—it does not involve any film or memory card—have to be completed within 15 minutes. In case of hot or humid weather, this process may further need to be hurried up. The wet-plate technique begins with cleaning the plates, glass or metal, and preparing the collodion—a mixture of raw cotton, dissolved in ether, ethnolo and salts. The glass plate is coated with the collodion, which is later dipped in silver nitrate solution (called silver bath) for two to five minutes, depending upon the envisioned output. The plate is then placed in a plate holder which is fit in the camera. The plate is then exposed to light for between 10 to 30 seconds. Once exposed, a developer—a solution of iron sulphate and acetic acid—is poured over it. Once the developer is poured, one can view the image in its negative form. It is finally rinsed with water to remove excess developer. “The process depends a lot on the chemistry composition and the temperature, so one needs to be very particular with that,” shares Sena, adding that one needs to be quick with this process. It is after this that Sena fixes the plate to bring out the image in its positive form. “It may take about an hour to create a photograph and if it doesn’t work out, I may have to start from scratch,” says Sena who has also built a makeshift darkroom using a suitcase that further aids him to take the process to other places.
Experiencing the magic
Sena’s studio in Sainik Farms is a “one-of-a-kind space wherein people can come for a sitting and witness the entire process of wet plate”. The photographer mentions handcrafting the decor during the lockdown, which gives this space a more intimate and warm vibe. “I was trying to build my own camera so I got into woodworking. I managed to build the camera that is based on the principle of a pin-hole camera,” shares Sena, who takes appointments for sittings as well, —the starting price for sittings is Rs 15,000. Namitha Matthews (38) from Defence Colony got a portrait made with CY Studios about three months ago. “All of us are so used to digital cameras and everything being so instant. It is quite an experience and also quite magical because the transfer of a material to something that looks like a glass plate,” shares Matthews, adding that the process requires patience given the intricacies involved. The turnaround time for the photographs is between one to two days.
Though Sena has worked with both digital photography and the wet-plate process, he feels the medium of photography is secondary when it comes to creating a successful photograph. “It totally depends on what we are trying to create. I shoot commercials on film [camera] as well. Depending on what we are trying to achieve is the end result,” he shares.
While the project is slowly gaining patrons—CY Studios gets about eight to ten sittings a month—Sena feels it has stirred an interest among the younger generation. He now looks forward to sharing one-of-a-kind artworks made using the wet-plate process through their website. “These are exclusive plates and there’s no double copies for these artworks. We will be putting it on our website where individuals can buy or auction it out,” he concludes.