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A First-Timer’s Foray Into Wet-Plate Photography

And why tintypes are the opposite
of Instagram

Tom Standage
Dec 9, 2014 · 8 min read

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Glass-plate image of Kirstin and me. Image courtesy of John Brewer
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Kirstin with camera. Note the bowler hat over the lens.
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Our first glass plates. Note that the image does not cover the entire plate on the left; I failed to coat the plate fully with collodion. The black mark above my head in the right-hand image is the result of a different kind of fault: Kirstin coated the plate with collodion properly but failed to cover the exposed plate fully with developer while processing it.

The Google Glass of the 1870s

Wet-plate collodion was displaced almost overnight by the advent of dry-plate photography in the late 1870s. Suddenly there was no need to carry chemicals around: companies sprang up to make dry plates, which were much more convenient to handle and far more sensitive than wet plates, allowing for faster exposures. For the first time it was possible to take a camera anywhere and snap an image without a tripod, and without asking permission. The combination of dry plates and affordable cameras from Kodak and other manufacturers democratised photography, an activity which was quickly embraced by an army of enthusiastic amateurs.

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Tintype of Kirstin. It’s hard to smile for a 10-second exposure. And photographing someone clearly without their permission is essentially impossible using wet-plate methods.

Vantage

Perspectives on Visual Storytelling

Tom Standage

Written by

Deputy editor of The Economist, NYT-bestselling author of “A History of the World in 6 Glasses”, drummer, gamer, pizza-maker, etc

Vantage

Vantage

Perspectives on Visual Storytelling

Tom Standage

Written by

Deputy editor of The Economist, NYT-bestselling author of “A History of the World in 6 Glasses”, drummer, gamer, pizza-maker, etc

Vantage

Vantage

Perspectives on Visual Storytelling

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