Teaching A Wet Plate Collodion Course

By: carlradford

Jul 14 2010

Category: Uncategorized


Due to Kerik Kouklis requiring brain surgery on the 9th July I found myself stepping into some rather large shoes and teaching the wet plate collodion course that he was scheduled to do.  It was somewhat hollow in the run up as I was talking to Kerik regularly, trying to support him from a distance, for what was a very unsettling period.  Kerik and I are very close, at least I like to think so, a relationship that has grown over a number of years and visits.  However, the course did go ahead as Kerik wished and I stepped into the breach.

    On the course were  Mari-zu Okereke, Deborah Parkin, Andrew Sanderson and Kostas Theofanidis.  I had been following Deborah’s photography for a while prior to knowing she was coming on the course and so was excited as I knew that she had the eye to make this process work for her.  What can I say about Andrew Sanderson – I have been inspired by him for many years after reading his book Home Photography whilst on a John Blakemore workshop at Inversnaid Photography Centre.  Andrew’s ability to see images in everyday surroundings that many would just dismiss as being mundane.  How could I teach Andrew – a little extra exposure as it were to teaching a teacher and for me an inspiration.  I did not know Mari-zu or Kostas prior to the course or their backgrounds. I felt honoured that two of the students had important birthdays on the Friday and Saturday and that they had chosen to spend these with us.   John Brewer stayed with us over the course and was able to add his experience and insight as we went along.

    We had a social gathering on Friday evening and talked photography and life in general followed by watching Sally  Mann’s All That Remains dvd.  The weather wasn’t brilliant on Saturday and so I briefly covered the history, a little theory and demonstrated the process from start to finish.  Then, despite the weather, the students were paired up and sent on their way.  I firmly believe that repetition is the best way to learn this process –  the act of flowing, sensitising exposing and developing and varnishing as many plates as possible in the time we had.  Very quickly the students grasped the techniques required to make good clean plates and their were some great portraits made as people posed for each other.

    During Saturday evening we had the bizarre experience of talking to Kerik a few hours after his operation and everyone was able to say a quick hello and be amazed that Kerik was so lucid despite the extensive surgery.  He approved as we showed him some of the plates that had been made during the day.

    Sunday the weather was a little better and so plates were made all day until the heavens suddenly opened at around 5pm and plates had to abandoned in the silver etc as we rushed to protect cameras and lens etc.  Rain stopped play but we were just about done anyway.  The last few plates were varnished and before I knew what was going on the course had finished.  Everyone left feeling they were able to make plates when they had procured the final pieces of kit to allow them to make plates for themselves.

    For me it was a great experience – knowing that you have given people the skills to start work in wet plate collodion.  My jaw held up for the most part although I struggled a little by the end of Saturday as I had been talking most of the day.  Sadly I was in bed for around 10:30pm both days but those that stayed with us burnt the midnight oil socialising and being entertained by John Brewer’s extensive knowledge of some of the more humorous clips on youtube.  We were also very lucky to be able to view an extensive portfolio of Andrew’s images as he followed the wet plate course by teaching paper negatives.  His craft is something that needs to be seen and I have always been surprised that he does not have the profile I feel he deserves and no doubt would have in any country that truly appreciates photography as the art it can be.