Embracing new technologies while continuing to uphold the beauty of the old is something many do not attempt, instead focused on only the former part of that equation. For Scott Basile, he uses new technologies to bring old techniques to the forefront. “I make wet plate collodion portraits and landscapes. I shoot with large format cameras, from 4×5 up to 11×14. The images are made in camera and have to be processed before the plate dries, hence the name wet plate, but the process is fairly simple when you get down to it, light bounces off your subject and back onto the silver.”
“There is a purity in that. The plate is a one-of-a-kind physical thing that you can hold in your hands. I don’t know where all the digital images I have made will go when Im gone, but these plates will be around for a couple hundred years, maybe longer, and that means a lot to me.
“There is a ton of work involved in shooting wet plate, but particularly shooting on location. You have to bring your darkroom and your chemistry, all your camera gear and trays and rinse water and holders and plates. You have to deal with the elements because heat and humidity play a large role in the process. You can imagine what a giant pain in the ass that is. But when it works you forget about all that. An entire day of prepping and packing and unpacking and shooting all becomes worthwhile because of one successful plate. It is rewarding to me on a level that making digital images is not.”
“I have been a shooting interiors and architecture professionally for about 10 years, mostly high-end real estate (www.basilephoto.com). I enjoy the work very much but I find myself spending more time in front of a computer and less time behind a camera, which is not as satisfying for me. I originally fell in love with photography while making prints in the darkroom and I wanted to get back to something more hands-on. I was looking for a bit of a kick in the ass. When I found wet plate that was it. I was hooked.
“I started doing some research and most roads led to John Coffer. John lives off the grid on his farm in upstate New York with no electricity or running water. He spent years traveling the country with a horse and buggy making wet collodion photographs. Hes the real deal. I wrote him a letter and asked if he would teach me. He agreed. I went to his farm and learned how to make plates. It was an experience that changed the way I look at photography.
“Shortly after that I took a wet plate workshop with Allan Barnes in Los Angeles. I wanted to get a more contemporary take on the process. Between those two I felt I had a pretty well-rounded view of making wet collodion photographs.”
“Sometimes its a place that inspires me. I shoot the pier in Ocean Beach often. I have a lot of history there. I have an emotional attachment to that place, that structure. So I love to shoot it. It will be an ongoing project for me.
“Sometimes the people I shoot inspire me. I will chat with my sitters as I am setting up the shot and fiddling around with my camera. Sometimes I have them look through the ground glass. We create a connection based on the image that we are about to make. One day I was shooting surfer portraits at Tourmaline and I met this guy Neil. We were chatting and he told me how he used to work in corporate America making six figures a year. He hated it. So he left his job and now he surfs every day and works at Whole Foods. That is inspiring to me. You can see his pride in the portrait we made that day.
“I also get inspired by other photographers. Lately I have been concentrating on portraiture. Gregory Heisler is someone who I have learned a ton from. 50 Portraits should be required reading for anyone who aims a camera at another person. The man is a master. Dan Winters also. Road to Seeing blew me away. I am halfway through it for the second time. I will probably read that book a dozen times. You cannot read something like that and be uninspired.
“As far as wet plate photographers, Alex Timmermans is probably my favorite wet plater on the planet. I love what Giles Clement has been up to, criss-crossing the country making amazing portraits along the way, a more contemporary version of John Coffer. Luther Gerlachs mammoth-plate work is stunning. I had the opportunity to meet him and see some of his work in person. There is so much talent out there, it really is an exciting time to make photographs.”
Scotts Favorite Gear
Deardorff 8×10 field camera with 4×5 and 5×7 reducing backs
Improved Empire State 11×14 field camera
Folmer and Schwing 11×14 studio camera with Century stand
Darlot Opticien petzval lens from the 1860s
A few no-name petzval lenses of various sizes from the late 1800s and early 1900s
Kodak 10 inch Commercial Ektar
Kodak 14 inch Commercial Ektar
Kodak 21 inch Anastigmat
PCB Zeus 2500 power pack
PCB Zeus 2500 head
PCB X3200 flash x2 (these work too)
Majestic tripod head
Manfrotto 058 Tripod
A lot of nasty chemicals
Nikon D600 for copy work and location scouting
AF Micro-Nikkor 60mm 2.8 for copy work and location scouting
AF Nikkor 24-85mm for copy work and location scouting
Scotts Advice to Emerging Photographers
“The best advice I can give an aspiring photographer is to practice. No one gets good at anything without practice. You can read all the articles online, you can buy all the gear, but it won’t make you a better photographer. You have to practice. Set aside time every week to practice something that you struggle with, over time you will see improvement.”
“Another piece of advice would be that sometimes you need to let go of the shot you wanted and be open to the one that is presented to you. I recently shot a 16 year old boy named Nando on his last day in San Diego before he was leaving for three years to study with the Royal Ballet in London. I had all these studio shots planned out. It just wasn’t working. Nando was quiet. He was leaving his parents and his friends for three years. Thats a heavy burden for anyone, let alone a 16 year old boy. And I was asking him to do all these ballet poses. I stepped out of the studio and saw sunlight coming through the window of the warehouse and onto the stairs. We set up a shot and did a thirty-second exposure. I had him look towards the light. It ended up being the best plate of the day, and a portrait of Nando that was a good representation of what he was going through at that moment in his life. It is important to be aware of what is in front of you, even if it means not getting the shot you intended.”