(Photo credit: S. Gayle Stevens, Nest #3 Dark from the series Nest)
The digital age encourages us to forget that photography was born of fussy chemistry and precision timing. Can you imagine anyone with a smart phone and a laptop hauling a mule up a mountain a la William Henry Jackson? Photographer S. Gayle Stevens skips the animal assistants but has utilized antiquarian processes for over 15 years. Dubbed the “Alt Queen” by her students, Stevens has a particular romance with the temperamental wet collodion ambrotype process.
In her own words:
The small things which people overlook inspire me. Everyone has seen a bird’s nest before but I believe most overlook the structure and composition of the nest. The nests themselves are unique and are not returned to the following year. The sense of line, form, and the material used in construction are all fascinating to me. Some nests are woven like baskets, others constructed of mud, sticks, or moss. Sometimes I find only the framework of a nest, as in Nest #3 Dark Version. Fragile, the remaining structure is like a drawing; these structures inspire me.
On wet collodion:
Wet plate is very hands-on and I am a hands-on person. It is a slow and fast process. You flow the plate and sensitize, then you have about 10-15 minutes to get the exposure before the plate starts to dry, develop, fix, and wash. After it dries over an oil lamp, varnish it with gum sandarac and lavender oil, afterwards everything smells like lavender. The whole oil lamp process is kind of romantic. Happy accidents occur on the plates; mystery, a sense of chance, I like the flaws. Sometimes I think the flaws make the plate. It is like spirits are coming out and speaking through me. When I flow a plate, there is a dark placid pool that draws me in and takes over, I like that place.
Check out more of Stevens work at www.sgaylestevens.com