Thursday, February 26, 2009

Mark Katzman and the Wet Plate Process

This is Mark Katzman’s camera, which has a portrait lens made in 1860.

Click on any image for a larger view.

IN THE FALL OF 2006, NOTED ST. LOUIS PHOTOGRAPHER MARK KATZMAN decided to use an obscure photographic process called “wet plate” collodian process to photograph the people on the street outside his studio. Many of the people he photographed were on their way to or from the St. Patrick Center (a homeless shelter) just down the street. When I asked Mark about this series, he said: “You know, I was overlooking the fact that some of the greatest faces I had ever seen were right here—walking past my studio every day.”

The wet-plate collodion process, commonly referred to as an Ambrotype, requires the emulsion to be hand applied to a glass plate. The photograph must then be exposed and developed before the emulsion has a chance to dry. For this process to work outside of the studio Mark used a custom portable darkroom installed in the back of his Suburban. Most subjects stayed for only one single photograph before continuing on their way.

The images are not only strikingly different than most images you see today, they expose the flaws, ripples, uneven surface and unique suface of each image made. No two processes are alike. There is always the chance you will develop something too little or too long—and the plate itself must be carefully prepared. Not only that, the process uses deadly chemicals, specifically potassium cyanide for “fixing” the image to the glass.

Mark’s images in this series are fabulous, rich and deep. I was fortunate one day about a year ago to have my portrait made by Mark Katzman in this wet plate process. I thought it was so interesting I decided to use this as my photo I.D. on my blog.

Katzman is a highly published photographer, and one of the most important collectors of vintage antique photogravures in the United States, and perhaps the world. He has a Web site that is devoted to the art of the photogravure. It’s thorough and educational, and you’ll want to go there. It’s called Art of the Photogravure.

A special Web site about Mark’s wet plate Ambrotypes, like the ones shown above, can be found at

1 comment:

Stephen A. Bess said...

I love the look of the photos. Very nice.

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