Reviving an abandoned process

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Rob Hazelett
  • Air Reserve Personnel Center Public Affairs
Quinn Jacobson's passion for photography is inspired by the people he met as a young boy at a low-income apartment complex his father owned during the 1970s in Ogden, Utah.

Along the way, the Air Reserve Personnel Center visual information specialist, has revived a forgotten photographic process called wet plate collodion taught through his lectures at his studio in Denver, Colo.

The wet collodion process was invented in 1851 by the Englishman Frederick Scott Archer. However, Archer did not patent the process and died just a few years after its invention in 1857. The process was discarded in the 1880s when dry plates were introduced.

"Today, collodion is used in the medical field to attach electrodes to skin and in wart remover," Jacobson said. "It's used in the astronomy field to clean telescope lenses. And it's also used in theatrical makeup for various effects, such as simulating old-age wrinkles or scars."

Jacobson has been working professionally in photography since 1984. But it wasn't until 1999 when he was working as a photojournalist, that his passion for learning collodion really took over.

"During that time, I felt I was at the end of my relationship with photography. I was going to give it up because I felt disconnected and disengaged with my work," Jacobson said. "Then I was looking through John Szarkowski's book, 'Looking at Photographs; 100 Pictures from the Collection of the MoMA.' There was a small Ambrotype by an anonymous photographer from 1875 in the book. Something took over and I was determined to work in the Collodion process.

Through reading and research, he found Mr. Mark Osterman at the George Eastman House and requested a private workshop where he learned the basics in Rochester, New York.

"It took me almost eight months to learn chemistry, get equipment and make my first successful image," he said. "All of that has changed now. People can take a workshop, buy a chemistry kit and go home and make an image that day."

The process of collodion can be difficult, even dangerous to do, Jacobson said. It is a flammable solution of pyroxylin or guncotton dissolved in sulfuric and nitric acid with ethyl alcohol and ether added.

"It's a beautiful, rare process that demands you slow down and be present and patient. We need that today," he said. "It's the antithesis of digital photography; there's no manipulating or editing. You have to be skilled to make a good photograph. It's hands-on, tactile and hand-crafted photography. That's a very special thing."

Nearly 40 years have passed since Jacobson found an inspiration through the people he met while travelling with his father in Ogden, Utah. Through it all, he's captured memories for others with the intricate process of collodion. A rare process revived in passion, and refined on glass.