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Photographer Uses 1800s Process for Ethereal Portraits of Kids


For her project titled “Nebula,” Spanish photographer Jacqueline Roberts shot portraits of youth in the limbo period between childhood and adolescence using the wet plate collodion process from the mid- to late-1800s. The resulting photos are haunting in their appearance.

“‘Nebula’ are portraits that I make on glass and metal plates,” Roberts says. “I use an old photographic technique called wet plate collodion. This process was the primary photographic method from the early 1850s until the late 1880s.”

“[Wet plate collodion] was introduced in 1851 by Englishman Frederick Scott Archer in 1851 and consists of coating a plate with collodion that is sensitized in silver nitrate. You then expose the plate, still wet, develop it and fix it.”

“It is crucial to go through the whole process while the plate is still wet, as once the collodion film has dried it will not react to the solutions.”

“The result is a negative image on a glass plate that, when backed with a dark background, forms what we call an Ambrotype, derived from the Greek word for ‘immortal’. Alternatively, on a black lacquered metal plate, the image appears directly as a positive. Collodion’s unique aesthetic produces timeless and ethereal images … Each plate is unique.”

The portraits in “Nebula” required the children to sit for long exposures.

“Another essential aspect in my work is to pause and take the time to create an image,” Roberts writes. “My portraits are about that, time. Time passed. Time elapsed. Time suspended. Time ahead or behind us.”

“The individuals in these portraits are neither children, nor adolescents,” says Roberts. “I wanted their portraits to emerge from that state of limbo to evoke the transitional stage that they are going through.

“‘Nebula’, Latin for mist, reflects on the turmoil of growing up with all its relational, psychological and emotional changes.”

You can find more of Roberts’ work on her website, Facebook, and Instagram. You can also purchase Nebula as a 144-page hardcover book with 87 illustrations for about $71 from Roberts’ website.

Image credits: Photographs by Jacqueline Roberts and used with permission