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Colorado Springs Photographer Demonstrates the Science and Art Behind Wet Plate Collodion Photography

Wet Collidion Photography
Posted at 4:00 PM, Apr 05, 2022

COLORADO SPRINGS — Colorado Springs photographer Don Jones is spending the end of his decades-long career mastering a type of photography that's been around since long before he started in commercial photography decades ago. It's called wet plate collodion photography and it dates back more than 150 years.

He took News 5 Anchor Dianne Derby and News 5 Chief photographer Adam Knapik into his mobile lab to show them the dangers and excitement of creating these hand made one-of-a kind pieces of art.

"We use about 20 different chemicals in that whole process between the collodion, the developer, the varnish," said Jones.

Jones only has a few minutes in his lab to get it right.

"I'm going to start with an aluminum plate, basically this is a tintype," as he opens up a bottle of collodion to pour onto the plate.

"Collodion is nitrated gun cotton so it starts with cotton and then they add nitric acid and sulfuric acid," he said.

The plate must stay wet the entire time.

"When I come out with a plate it’s chop, chop, you got to move you can’t be taking too much time," he said.

He hurries outside towards his vintage 1890 lens, takes the photo, and then quickly heads back to the lab. Start to finish is 7-15 minutes for one photo. It's a process that took Jones years to get right.

"It's probably the most exciting and most difficult thing I've ever done in photography," he said.

Jones was inspired to learn about wet plate collodion photography when he set out across the country to take photos of the Florida Highwaymen.

"The Highwaymen are a group of folk artists from Fort Pierce Florida who started in the early 1950s," he said. "Because of the Jim Crow laws they weren’t allowed to go to education beyond high school, they weren’t allowed to go to college. So they were encouraged by their high school art teacher to form a group and study art amongst themselves."

Jones was determined to capture their images in a way that could one day be displayed in museums.

"I wanted the aesthetic to match the characteristic and what they meant to the art world," he said.

Whether he's photographing people or places he says the result speaks for itself.

"It's really wonderful to connect with your subject, be able to photograph your subject with an aesthetic like wet plate that brings out their soul, that brings out their character," he said, "It is so unique and it’s museum quality. It’s very desirable and not a ton of people doing it because it’s very difficult.

Jones' photography has been featured in Cowboys and Indians magazine. His work is on display right now through Sunday, April 10th at the Broadmoor Galleries at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado springs. It includes a portrait of Ernie LaPointe, the newly confirmed great grandson of chief Sitting Bull. For more information click here.
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