Modern craftsmen are too few and far between, particularly in an era with an emphasis on mass-produced goods that feature varying levels of built-in obsolescence. That doesn’t mean some artisans don’t still exist – and thrive – in the era of ubiquitous tech.
Some, like Dieter Schneider, use technology to not only showcase their work, but thrive because of it. What better place to show off your awesome talent, for good or ill, than Youtube? Let's just say Dieter's quiet approach (literally, silent, as you'll note in the video) has won the hearts of camera and retro-tech lovers across the Internet. Wet Plate Camera via Dieter Schneider. Dieter Schneider builds customized wet-plate wooden cameras out of either cherry or walnut wood (customer's choice) and offers these cameras for sale to customers through his website for a starting price of $US 1,150 going up to $US 2,600. This price includes the plate holder and lens so, technically speaking, the camera is ready to use upon receipt. It can take Dieter anywhere from six to 12 weeks to finish a single camera, the finishing process being especially tedious as it requires five to six coatings of oil prior to polishing the body. All of the cameras are handcrafted and unique, meaning no two cameras will ever be the same. Though not a replica, the wooden body of Dieter Schneider’s retro camera recreation is reminiscent of one of the first majorly poplar consumer-grade cameras made in the United States. One of the first and among the most popular consumer wet plate cameras available at the start of wet plate photography was the 1859 Excelsior Wet Plate Camera made in New York City, New York and Fort Lee, New Jersey by August Semmendinger. Wet plate photography, or the collodion process, was an early method of photography that required the film or photographic material to be processed within fifteen minutes of use, necessitating the use of a “portable darkroom.”
Image via Dieter Schneider. While normally used in wet form, it could also later be used in a “dry form” which resulted in longer exposure times, but this type was relegated to use mainly in landscape images. Originally developed by Frederick Scott Archer and Gustave Le Gray in 1851, the collodion process had completely replaced the first popular iteration of the art of photography, the daguerreotype, by the end of the 1850’s in the United States. The collodion process was used for a bit everything, including portraits, landscapes, architectural photos, and art photography.
One process in particular, the tintype, was in use until the 1960’s, mainly for the print industry for line and tone work involving black on white backgrounds (like text).
Today the wet plate photography process is taught as a historical technique and is often used by fine-art photographers for gallery showings and personal work according to Wikipedia. You can watch a video of Dieter constructing a wooden camera on Youtube by clicking here. You can also order a camera from Dieter by visiting his website here: https://dieter.me/shop/handmade-cameras/classic-wet-plate-camera/.