ART FEATURE: Reviving bygone beauty

By on January 27, 2015
Old-time techniques create arresting contemporary portraits. PHOTO: Lindsey Ross

Old-time techniques create arresting contemporary portraits. PHOTO: Lindsey Ross

Vintage photographs possess an allure that renders doctored digital images almost lifeless and flat by comparison. In addition to the subjects’ oft-demure, suggestive expressions, these photos are a looking glass into the past. We ponder, among other things, what was transpiring in history when the photo was taken.

Lindsey Ross is resurrecting a process called wet plate collodion that captures the intricate nuances of her portrait subjects. The photographic technology du jour from 1850 to 1890, the wet plate collodion process extends beyond framing a subject and pressing a button. It requires subjects to hold an expression for eight to 12 seconds. Then, after the photo is taken, the photographer must utilize an on-site darkroom, crafting the emulsion on a metal or glass substrate using raw material.

The result, Ross explains, is images that capture untold aspects of their subjects. “This is a slow process … the subject must hold an expression that allows them to stay still for the duration of that exposure,” said the Santa Barbara, California, photographer.

The stillness and presence required of subjects, Ross noted, reveals their core and often-hereditary characteristics. “I think it’s amazing to see how family members look photographed together in this process,” she said.

The old-timey technique also illumes some of our characteristics easily lost in digital photos and sometimes not as prominent to the human eye. “Wet plate collodion process is only sensitive to blue and ultraviolet wavelengths. Blue eyes will turn white. Saturated colors [aside from blue] appear black. Freckles will become more pronounced. This narrow stream of visual data produces an end product different than what you would see with your eyes or with a digital camera,” Ross said.

Relishing the unhurried process of wet plate collodion, particularly in the face of “ephemeral modern technology,” Ross also acknowledges how our memory of historic events is tethered to photographic history. “I feel vintage processes — which trigger these memories — possess great power,” she said.

After receiving an overwhelming response during a recent photo shoot at The Rose, Ross returns to the valley this week to make wet plate collodion tintypes and ambrotypes. She is scheduled to shoot portrait events at Metal in Alpine from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday; in Jackson at The Indian from 5:30 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, and at Teton Thai in Driggs from 5:30 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 4. To make an appointment during one of these events, contact her at (805) 453-6927 or

About Robyn Vincent

Robyn is the editor of Planet Jackson Hole and Jackson Hole Snowboarder Magazine. When she's not sweating deadlines, she likes to travel the world with her notebook and camera in hand. Follow her on Twitter @TheNomadicHeart

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