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Stillness in Time. Wet Plate Portraits of Childhood

Within you there is a stillness and sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself. Hermann Hesse

“Stillness in Time” is a series I have been working on throughout the spring and summer of 2011.  I wanted to make a series of child portraits using the Wet Plate Collodion process and I envisaged that these portraits would capture the stillness within each child as they sat or lay for several seconds, left alone in their own thoughts.

The reason for the Wet Plate Collodion process is simple. Firstly, because it is beautiful, but more importantly it is because it really slows down the photographic process and in turn it slows down the child sitting before me. Working with the Wet Plate Collodion process feels very personal.  It can be an unforgiving process; all mistakes are mine and will be shown.  It records every moment, from the flowing of the plate, to how I put the plate into the silver box, the exposure, the composition and the moment in which we (the sitter and the photographer) seems to come together and hold still for several seconds.  Then we develop the plate.  Every pause, hesitation, slip or drop will be recorded on this plate, every spec of dust or hair floating will be unforgiving.  That’s the beauty of Wet Plate Collodion – by its very nature it is left to serendipity.

So, why have I returned to photographing children again? We live in a mad, relentless world and this is no different if you are a child. I am not saying it is a bad thing, just merely an observation. When I think what my family life is like we are on the go from around 6.30am until about 9pm most days. From getting breakfast, going to school, going to their clubs, homework, dinner, playing, talking, reading together - no time for stillness - so to capture stillness in a child is a rare and beautiful moment.  It was wonderful to witness how despite whatever was going around them they became totally immersed in their own world. 

When photographing the children I wanted it to be a collaborative experience. I wanted each child to suggest how I photographed them; however, due to the long exposure time not all suggestions could be done. The exposure time ranges from 4 to 30 seconds, enough time for someone to become absorbed in the moment - to become still.  The very nature of wet plate requires stillness.