Éric Antoine's wet plate collodion shot of skateboarder Eniz Fazliov in the experimental category (above, main) earned him a finalist's place in the 2010 Red Bull Illume. Antoine is the subject of a movie, "A Quiet Riot" by Willem Vleugels about the ancient technique. Below, he talks us through its appeal.
Why wet plate?
This technique is so pure, the blacks are deeper than ever in photography. There is a certain depth that comes from the 2 millimeters of glass between the sensitive side of the plate and the back that is black. It's got that very organic aspect that I love. I always enjoyed holding photographs in my hand, here I make more than photos, I build objects.
What about the equipment?
Using very old equipment is a thrill for me. I started collecting and seeking cameras and lenses like a maniac over the past few years. I use very old 19th century lenses and I love what they give to my photos – each image has a personality. I shoot very large negatives and the definition is infinite. No grain and an incredible precision.
Does the technique work with action sports?
It's been tried before but in my view, it was not a success. Collodion photography needs a lot of light, whether natural or artificial so it suits either long poses or a very large amount of artificial lighting. It is definitely not made for action sports! However I used this technique to print on glass from an already positive shot instead of shooting directly with a large format camera. This resulted in my first test shot that I entered in the 2010 Red Bull Illume (above, main). Users vary from good portrait photographers to a few photo clubs geeks who mostly shoot reenactments and people in ancient outfits.
Together with a bunch of photographers, we try to use it for other purposes and in a more modern way. The skate collodion photos I did emerged from that way of thinking.
How long does the whole process take?
It's pretty long! It can take a week just to mature your chemicals. Then when you shoot you have to do it all in a short amount of time and have your lab very close to develop instantly. Exposure times vary from one second to two minutes.
And the cost?
A lot of time, space, passion, and quite a lot of equipment!
Is this a reaction to the digital revolution?
Not really, I was already interested in classic techniques before this "revolution". Even though I don't enjoy shooting digital, I recognize it has great possibilities. But I totally reject faking vintage effects! On an Instagram level it can be fun but I also see professionals applying vintage effects and I have no other word than ‘lame’ for it. I do something real and I avoid what isn't.
What do you have in mind for this year's Red Bull Illume?
I will probably submit more of those wet collodion prints and a few things that I shot on my last skate trips across Europe. I'm also working on a book and if it's done in time, I'll submit some of those photos.