Wet plate photography, also known as “collodion humide,” is a traditional photography technique that uses a glass plate to produce a negative image printed on albumen paper. Michaël Tirat, a long-time student of the technique, decided to take his art out of the studio and out into the streets.
It took him two weeks to create his traveling darkroom, using a tricycle as a base. He named his mobile studio “L’Atelier de l’Alchimiste” (The Alchemist’s Workshop) to pay homage to the chemical reaction used to create wet plate photographs. He describes the public’s reaction to his darkroom like this: “Everyone is curious and wants to experiment with shooting a portrait with my old cameras. And when they discover all the steps, and the ‘magical’ step of the fixer bath, they realize why I choose the name ‘alchemy.’ A secret alchemy between chemicals, savoir-faire, and antique photography.”
The collodion process dates back to the 1850s when it was invented by Frederick Scott Archer. Although it has been refined in many ways since then, it remains true to its original roots and is a popular medium for many photography enthusiasts today.
Tirat’s darkroom on wheels weighs just over 550 pounds (250 kg) and draws a great deal of attention wherever his travels take him. He will often have passers-by pose for a portrait and then wait as the photo develops right before their eyes.
Modern photography techniques and equipment evolve and advance. Tirat, however, is dedicated to preserving the art of wet plate photography and sharing it with the world saying, “L’Atelier de l’Alchimiste was born in order to reach out to the public and raise awareness of this technique, both in terms of modern aesthetics and the ancient technical ritual that has remained unchanged.”