Jonathan Keys, 41, uses the collodion process, which was a photographic method used from the 1850s to the 1880s. He has to haul around a huge Circa camera from the 1880s to take his incredible images of NewcastleEach still takes 15 minutes to capture but he says the fascinating results are worth the effort required
However, one photographer has shunned modern equipment to use a 160-year-old method that requires a portable dark room and an enormous camera that captures just one image every 15 minutes. The collodion process – otherwise known as the wet plate process – was wildly popular from the 1850s to the 1880s. Invented by Frederick Scott Archer, it was known for giving fine detail but also for being highly impractical.
Echoes of history: A street scene in modern Newcastle city centre near the Quayside area taken by Jonathan Keys using the collodion process – an archaic photographic method
Jonathan Keys, 41, from Newcastle, has been practicing the process for three years and says the results are highly satisfying. ‘It’s definitely far more rewarding than digital photography because of the time and attention needed for each picture,’ he said.
Mr Keys will only take two to six photographs per day when using the wet plate process and reckons there are only around 50 people doing it in the UK.While this style of photography may be completely baffling to most who simply press a button on their phone for instant snaps, Mr Keys takes a lot of joy from it.
He said: ‘The fun part of it for myself is the need to be near a darkroom to process each shot. ‘It’s similar to a polaroid, once it’s been shot you can move onto the next shot without thinking about the time you have to spend in Photoshop.’
‘In theory it’s actually quicker because many working photographers will spend hours on Photoshop, however you do end up with less images.‘
Mr Keys will only take two to six photographs per day when using the wet plate process and reckons there are only around 50 people doing it in the UK. Pictured, a busy stree in Newcastle city centre
Clash of cultures: A Roman re-enactor in front of modern cars, captured using a 160-year-old photographic method. Right, cars sit incongruously in the street scene
The process starts in the darkroom by pouring collodion onto one side of glass and then dipping it into silver nitrate, which makes it sensitive to light. While still under dark room conditions, the plate is then loaded into a camera and taken to Jonathan’s desired location.
Jonathan will then take his lens cap off the camera to expose the plate to light and guess how long the cap needs to be off for to obtain correct exposure.
The plate is then taken back to a dark room and developed in a similar way to conventional film negatives. Unlike negatives and digital photos, the finished plate can be sealed with varnish to stop the silver oxidising and achieves a permanent record, as proven by stills taken 150 years ago.
Mr Keys admits that he’s often quizzed by curious members of the public about using such an unusual camera, including famous comedian Johnny Vegas.
A portrait of a couple in Newcastle city centre. While this style of photography may be completely baffling to most who simply press a button on their phone for instant snaps, Mr Keys takes a lot of joy from it