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Mike Brown: Wet Plate Collodion Nudes

Irish photographer working with view cameras and wet plate collodions 

Mike is an Irish photographer passionate about shooting nudes with view cameras using wet plate collodions. Here’s what he has to say about his creative process: 

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. I also spent a lot of time shooting for the press – both locally for Irish newspapers and internationally for Reuters news agency. 

I always loved the outdoors and nature though so I began working on those themes whenever I could. Since 2002 I published three books on Irish nature and landscape photography, of of which 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. That 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 nudes. I had always admired the work of great nude and erotic photographers and had wanted to try myself. At first I shot nudes in landscapes, mostly on digital because it was handy. 

At some point 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, in 2015. 

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.

By now I have learnt loads but I know I 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 director 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”! That sums up much of what I think about digital photography – it’s just not what I want to do.



PHOTOGRAPHER

    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.

    MODEL LIST