What do Fellows do at Weekends?

8 February 2017


By Alistair Ross

As well as being Dean and Fellow of Kellogg College, Alistair Ross is Director of Psychodynamic Studies and Associate Professor in Psychotherapy at the Department for Continuing Education.

…Now that is a leading question but what I did last weekend was to attend a one-day workshop to learn how to do wet-plate collodion photography. Possibly because I can’t work out how to use a digital camera I have stepped back into the 19th century and the days before film was invented.

Wet plate photography involves taking a tin or glass plate (hence the name tintype although it is now milled aluminium), coating it with collodion, sensitizing it in a bath of silver nitrate (in a darkroom), then taking a picture within five minutes before the chemicals on the plate dry. It is then back to the darkroom where the exposed plate has a chemical developer poured over it, then is washed in a water bath.

The result is a black and white image that can never be perfect. This picture required me to hold still for a 20-second exposure. The results are thus far removed from the digital perfection so many people seek. The flaws intrigue me, which also explains why I am a psychotherapist. The size of the final image depends on the size of the plate put in the camera, hence the need for a large format camera. Each plate is unique and once varnished will last for over a hundred years. Such photography requires much experimentation, patience, and a willingness to learn from mistakes. I am sure I will soon be addicted to searching for the perfect image.

“An unusual request – What’s in your attic?
Having recently completed a wet-plate collodion workshop, I am exploring the possibility of doing further photography using this 19th century technique. This requires a large-format camera, so I am wondering if anyone in the Kellogg community has such a piece of equipment stashed away in their, or their parents’ attics?  This would initially be on a loan basis but who knows where the next step will take me?”  Alistair Ross
Alistair Ross as he might have looked in the nineteenth century

Alistair Ross as he might have looked in the 19th century