The technology that we create for the future is always focused on instant gratification. This holds particularly true for photography — an art that has seen a major shift even before digitisation. Talking to us about this change, photographer, historian and archivist Aditya Arya shares, “Today, photography is all about the delete button.
Earlier, there was nothing that could be deleted. In the 19th Century, photographers used to spend hours creating images. It was a slow and immersive process. Analogue photographers come from a time when the image was created in your mind and you knew exactly what you were doing.” Arya, who is the founder of Museo Camera Centre for the Photographic Arts, Gurugram, rues, “Today’s generation has no idea of how photography originated.”
To make the younger generation aware of the history of photography, Museo Camera has collaborated with 1839 Centre for Historic Photographic Processes (CHPP), an Ahmedabad-based initiative founded by photographer Malhar Dhruv. The two organisations will be conducting ‘Tintypes & Ambrotypes’, a three-day workshop on the 19th Century positive wet-plate photographic processes, from September 20-22.
As an eminent commercial and travel photographer, Arya, who has dedicated 40 years to the art, has been studying the history of photography for the past 10-15 years. He mentions, “It is very important for young photographers to slow down, experience and learn to see something before they click the [camera] button. They should know everything from the processes to the technology, capturing devices, emulsions and surfaces — glass plates, metals plates, silver plates — rolls, films, and how the silver grains convert into pixels. But there are very few places where you can learn the history as well as the processes of photography.”
This immersive workshop will guide participants through the basics of making positive collodion (an adhesive on which you pour silver nitrate that reacts with light and creates a photograph) images, from cutting the glass to coating the emulsion, exposing, developing, and varnishing the plates. 1839 CHPP founder Dhruv, who has been working on these processes for over 10 years now, will conduct the workshop.
Blast from the past
Tintypes and ambrotypes are variants of the wet-plate collodion process that were majorly used from the 1850s to 1870s for studio portraits. Sharing the difference between them, Dhruv says, “Ambrotype is done on glass, while tintype is done on tin plates. When you are shooting on glass, it becomes a negative. When it’s shot on black glass, it becomes a positive but it’s still glass, and the tintype is done on a tin plate.” However, this isn’t the only difference. Dhruv continues, “The second difference lies in the development. The concentration of active agent (ferrous sulphate), and the formula for development are different for both. We stop the development when we start seeing the midtones, highlights and shadows. The nuances change in both the processes.”
A work of art
In both these processes, the plate (metal or glass) is coated with collodion first. It is then dipped in silver nitrate. “When we dip it, the salts react. Then, we take this plate into the camera with the help of film holders, and then we shoot. After the shoot, we come to the darkroom and process it. It is developed and fixed under the solution of sodium thiosulphate aka HYPO. The whole process takes two to three hours depending upon the weather, light, temperature, and chemistry. Then, we put it under running water to wash the chemicals and varnish it. Through the entire process, the plate has to be wet till development,” explains Dhruv.
The processes, though simple, are works of art as well. Arya elaborates, “How you pour the chemical is the art; then you have to process it within five or six minutes. Each sheet has to be individually coated and put into the camera. The pictures are clicked by different kinds of cameras.” For the workshop, they will be using a relatively modern camera — a slightly-modified SINAR large format 4x5 inches film camera, from the late 1970s.
Arya is partially responsible for Dhruv’s interest in this art. Dhruv mentions, “I started experimenting with him, and became fascinated with it. Later, I learnt from Mark Osterman (a photographic process historian from New York), who taught me the nuances.” He concludes by telling us how digital photography functions on similar aesthetic. “During the film days,” he adds, “the colour rendition of every brand was different. I feel a photographer and a student should learn where these aesthetics have come from. It will enhance their knowledge of photography.”
Sept 20: Participants will be taught about the history of these forms. In the second half of the day, they will also be introduced to the dark room.
Sept 21: Understand the art of making ambrotypes and tintypes. The participants will also start creating these.
Sept 22: Hands-on experience of creating photos using the processes.
To register, check out @museo_camera on Instagram.