Mike Brown


Worked With Models

I have been a professional photographer for over 28 years and have worked in many areas of photography. These days my preference for my personal work is to use the vintage process of Wet Plate Collodion.

My favourite subject is the female nude but I would class many of my images wet plate images as nude portraits. While I often have my own pre-conceived ideas or plans for a shoot, I do like to collaborate with my models and work with them to create images which show something of their character.

I developed and printed my first black and white film at the age of 11 in a school darkroom. While I loved the process, many things got in the way of photography for many years until I took it up again in my late twenties. Soon after rediscovering the whole photographic thing, I decided I wanted to make it my profession.

Self taught, I turned pro in my early thirties and have done many, many things in photography since then. Commercial work such as weddings and portraits was what I got started with in the early days and I also spent a lot of time shooting for the press both locally for Irish newspapers and internationally for Reuters news agency. I had always had a love of the outdoors and nature though and I began working on this whenever I could. I have published three books on Irish nature and landscape photography since 2002 and all have been well acclaimed and successful. Like most other photographers who started on film I inevitably moved to digital once I felt the quality was up to scratch. However, as soon as I started using digital in earnest, I got bored. The images didn’t feel right and I was spending too much time at the computer. I felt that this was not how I wanted to shoot for my personal work. The advantages of digital are simply great for commercial jobs but for me the images don’t have much soul. Maybe this is to do with my beginnings with film? Who knows but I do see other photographers expressing this. I just knew that I wanted something else.

A few years ago I started shooting the nudes. I had always admired the work of great nude and erotic photographers and had wanted to try myself. I started with nudes in the landscape and mostly shot on digital because it was handy. Then I came across some work in Wet Plate and WOW, it blew my mind! I knew that this was a medium I wanted to investigate. I went on a workshop to learn [or start to learn] the technique. I purchased a camera, with no real knowledge about what I needed and I got going. This was about 5 years ago. I haven’t shot anywhere near as many plates as I would like as things really have to line up. It can be expensive! You need to have chemistry and plate supplies when you have a model available [there’s not may models shooting nudes in Ireland so I mostly rely on visiting models from abroad]. You need plenty of time as it’s a slow process and you need money to pay the models, etc etc.

I have learnt loads by now but will always be learning with this process. It can be difficult, unreliable, unpredictable, limiting, smelly and frustrating but when you make a beautiful plate it is so rewarding. Most of the models I have shot have loved this new experience. I shot two plates in an afternoon with one model who told me that one day the previous week a photographer had shot 4000 digital images in two hours with her! That would be my idea of hell – wading through 4000 images on screen and finding that most had just a small or insignificant difference to the last one. There is a wonderful advert by Masterclass for learning film making with the great Werner Herzog. In it he exclaims his despair when a young film maker tells him that he shot 250 hours of video towards a film he was making. Herzog says, “my heart sinks, we are not garbage collectors, we are film makers”! This is what I think of much of digital photography – it’s just not what I want to do.

Many wet plate photographers concentrate on head and shoulder portraits. This is fine and if you were to use the same set-up with the same lighting and with the same camera and lens for every shot you will inevitably have a better hit rate than by trying new things. I have always wanted to experiment. When I shot with film and digital photography I would shoot flowers with a 600mm lens using extension tubes to allow close focussing. I would use camera traps and remote triggers to make images. With wet plate I try to do things differently, to set up models in different ways and to beat the limitations of the process, which is mostly the amount of light required.

My next step will most likely be to take the process outdoors. For now however, I will concentrate on doing more and more in the studio with the wonderful models I meet. I have many ideas and concepts in my mind but I do like simplicity. I love simple nude portraits of models who really have a feel for the art of photography. I hate over-posed images and abhor the millions of copies of the same images that we see all the time on social media. I would prefer to see a badly made interesting image rather than a pixel perfect identikit image that has been done a million times before.

In December 2019 my Wet Plate work was selected to be exhibited at FEPN, Arles in France in May 2020 [http://www.fepn-arles.com/]. This highly prestigious festival has now been postponed until 2021 of course due to the Coronavirus pandemic but I will be there next year all being well. It is a tremendous honour to have been selected and I am really looking forward to the festival. When I was selected, I decided to make a highly limited edition book of some of my wet plates so far to take to the festival. I am going ahead It will be going to print during April 2020 and ready for shipping in May. It is available on my website https://www.mikebrown.eu/ for preorder.

I have shown my work in a few other exhibitions in the last 12 months both in Ireland and the US and I hope to produce a lot more wet plate work this year and get it out for exhibitions and art fairs. It has become a bit of an obsession but it is so rewarding to make a beautiful plate of a beautiful and interesting model and I feel I have only scratched the surface of the possibilities. I hope you enjoy my work.

Albums and Galleries