The Photographic Journey Has Begun
The invention of photography occurred about seven years after the Major Long Expedition and Edwin James’ historic climb of Pikes Peak. The Long Exhibition employed several artists and illustrators to document the wilderness they explored. Since I am a photographer, not an illustrator, I chose to use the wet collodion process, made commercially viable in 1851 by Frederick Scott Archer. The collodion process was used by the survey photographers like Timothy O’Sullivan and William Bell. The reason for my choice is to use a visual syntax that is close to the time period and imparts a sense of timelessness.
The collodion is a cumbersome and laborious process using glass plates and a large format camera. It is also highly explosive! Using chemicals such as ether, grain alcohol, and cadmium bromide, to name a few, the by-products are the equivalent of gun cotton. Then there is silver nitrate which is another story for later. This is almost the exact opposite of my 20+ years of pinhole landscape work. The pinhole was utterly simple. The collodion is complicated and unforgiving.
Over the next three years, I will be photographing and climbing the area around Pikes Peak to create a visual document of what Edwin might have experienced back in 1820. I will also attempt to recreate the route of his climb to the summit. Lastly, I will photograph out on the eastern plains to contrast the different landscapes encountered by the Long Expedition. There are significant challenges to using the collodion process for landscape photography. Look to my blog as the project progresses to see and read about the adventure!