” I lost my soul to this beautiful process “
Alex Timmermans, photographer, Netherlands
Photography has progressed into a myriad of processes and genres but there are still some people who passionately create imagery using the traditional tools that started it all. The Dutch photographer Alex Timmermans is one of them.
Alex Timmermans has been working with wet plate photography for the last 7 years. His work has received international attention with shows and publications in many venues. His storytelling series is especially noteworthy for both its humor and its painstaking composition.
During the summer of 2008 he started his search for more information about a mysterious photographic process. At that time it was practiced by only a handful of photographers all over the world. He went back in time – about a hundred and sixty years – to one of the most magic forms of photography: ‘Wet plate photography’. Timmermans began experimenting with collodion photography in 2009, developing a style that synthesized his interests in old school photography.
His most recent series Storytelling combines fine art photographs filled with strange and surreal elements that suggest a variety of interesting narratives as if they were pulled out of some long-lost storybook. He wanted to create something nobody else had done using collodion. The images from Storytelling (still ongoing) are imbued with a mysterious ambience: A movie in one shot. A lot of ‘stories’ play on the idea of the nineteenth century but add a fantastical dimension, a kind of ‘conversation’ with images from the past. The look of the process automatically draws you back to the world of old-fashioned photography.
Timmermans’ work is a visual treat and that exhibits an imaginative take on contemporary photography. With the various advancements in technology, photography gear and processes, seeing Timmerman’s ‘fresh’ take on modern-day photography is soothing to the eyes. Each wet plate photograph also gives a proud salute to the dedicated photographers of the past. His work has been exhibited internationally at Paris Photo Los Angeles (solo exhibition) Fotofever Brussels and Paris, Photo Shanghai, Pan Amsterdam and recognized by the Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum International Photography Award (HIPA), among others like fine Art Photo, Vogue, Photo Klassik, SHUTR, Silvershotz, Black+white photography, LXRY, Blur magazine and many others. For 2016 exhibitions are planned in Palm Beach, Los Angeles, Paris and Amsterdam
Alex Timmermans never imagined that a photographic process, which have been invented by Frederick Scott Archer more than 160 years ago, was going to have such an influence on his passion for photography. In 1851 Archer experimented with collodion hoping to produce a photographic positive on ordinary glass plates. The same process of 1851 is still used by Alex Timmermans today using 19th century lenses and camera’s.
Timmermans: “To work according to an ancient craft is so beautiful for me, from the very first moment I saw a plate coming up in the fixer bath, I lost my soul to this beautiful process. You can’t get any closer to a photographic process itself while working on wet plate photography and without the use of Photoshop. Collodion photography is not only a kind of photography. It is a passion as well”!
Timmermans uses antique camera’s and brass lenses with a glorious history like Dallmeyer, Hermagis and Darlot. He does everything from scratch, like mixing his own chemicals. Varying amounts of chemicals and even the slightest change in lighting due to shifting weather conditions, can affect the outcome of wet plate photography. Timmermans understands all of these things and still pursues the labor-intensive photography process with passion and commitment without using any Photoshop. Preparations from start to finish can take several month. The idea of the image, finding or making the right props and locations, waiting for excellent weather conditions. The photographer spends hours creating images by mixing the right amount of chemicals, developing plate after plate to create the final image. All of these are done to produce one single image.
How collodion process works
The English sculptor and photographer, Fredrick Scott Archer, invented a wet plate process, sometimes referred to as the Collodion process. In 1851 he experimented with collodion hoping to produce a photographic positive on ordinary glass plates. Collodion, in that time was widely used by surgeons as a liquid bandage owing to its strength and adhesion. A bromide, iodide, or chloride is dissolved in collodion (a solution of pyroxylin in alcohol and ether). This mixture is then poured on a cleaned glass plate, allowing the alcohol and ether to evaporate. A thin film containing the necessary iodides is left on the plate. The glass plate is then placed in a silver nitrate solution, which converts the iodide, bromide, or chloride to silver iodide. Once the reaction is complete, the plate is removed from the silver nitrate solution and placed in the camera while still wet. The plate however loses sensitivity as it dries, requiring it to be coated and sensitized immediately before use. It must also be developed while still moist, using a solution of iron sulfate, acetic acid and alcohol in water. After exposure in the camera, the plate has to be quickly returned to the darkroom. Using an acidic solution of ferrous sulfate, the plate is developed, then rinsed and fixed in a mild solution of potassium cyanide, or hypo. Thanks to Frederick Scott Archer the wet plate photographers could produce multiple images from a single negative or offer a collodion positives.
The sensitivity of silver halides to light is the underlying principle behind most types of 19th century photographic processes – Daguerreotypes, Ambrotypes, Calotypes that use paper negatives, and wet and dry plate processes.
More information about this fascinating process as well as insights to the deeply beautiful and compelling art of Alex Timmermans can be found on the following websites:
You might also be intersted in all three videos on Alex Timmermans:
“Interview on Chinese TV”, “The Making of Tea Time” and “The Making of Swan Lake” on this Artists Video Page.
Gallery 1 – Story Telling
Gallery 2 – Portraits, Fine Art, Nudes