In the digital era, I always find it impressive when I see photographers who still use wet plate collodion process. And it’s especially impressive to see all the fun projects and DIY stuff they make. Photographer Michaël Tirat has built his own DIY portable wet plate darkroom and he put it on a tricycle. It contains everything he needs so he can cycle around Bordeaux, France with it, take photos and develop them on the spot. We’ve chatted with Michaël a bit about his interesting project. He kindly shared some details about his build, the challenges he faced, as well as some photos.
While Michaël’s portable darkroom looks quite simple and relatively small, it holds everything he needs for the process: chemistry, water, tanks, tripod, cameras, gray water disposal system, trays and more. He notes that all this equipment is very sensitive, so he also needs to think about proper security for the delicate plates. Because of all this, the darkroom weighs 250 kg (551 lbs)! That’s quite a lot for a tricycle, but Michaël says that he can ride it without trouble. He doesn’t ride fast, and after all – he takes regular breaks to take photos.
The building of the “tricycle darkroom” took about two weeks, which is not that much. However, it took way more time to figure out how to put everything he needs for the process into this relatively small box. The biggest challenge was ensuring a running water supply and the best gray water disposal system that would take as little space as possible. But once he figured that out, it didn’t take long for Michaël to build the entire thing.
This version of Michaël’s portable darkroom is, in fact, the second one he made. He made some improvements compared to the first one he built, such as a taller darkroom so he can work while standing. And while this darkroom is certainly unique, he reminds us of other portable darkrooms such as the impressive truck camera by Ian Ruhter.
When Michaël first discovered wet plate photography in 2006, he thought that the process from the 1850s was impossible today. However, he soon realized that he was wrong. Although, it did require a lot of learning and trial and error before getting it right. It took him two years of experimenting and testing formulas to achieve consistently good plates. He finds the process beautiful because each plate is unique, with a pure silver combination. And also, it’s a way to bring a piece of history back. Personally, I think that he’s found a fun and unique way of sharing this piece of history with the world.
“We all have our own philosophy of making the wet plate, and you’ll see that it’s just a question of what we want to photograph and how,” Michaël says. And for him, this project is about mixing the job of “itinérant photographer” with the wet plate process to make it accessible to people. I was curious about how people react when they see this unusual portable darkroom. Michaël told me that his build has been turning heads, people love the design, but no one figures out immediately that it’s a darkroom. “And when I told them that I’m working on the wet plate process named « Collodion Humide » in French, they don’t know anything about it,” he says. However, they are all curious to have their photo taken and discover the wet plate collodion process as Michaël develops the images. So, I guess we can say that this portable darkroom is not just fun, it’s also educating people about the vintage process of creating photos, and I think that’s wonderful!
Here are a few demonstration videos of Michaël’s process: