The History Maker
Debra Haaland, first Native American U.S. Cabinet Member (Secretary of the Interior), and one of the two first Native American Women elected to the United States Congress, 8x10" Wet Plate Collodion Tintype
Story Behind The Plate...
I made this wet plate collodion tintype (The History Maker) in February, 2019 in my studio in Chicago, Illinois. Ms. Haaland was visiting Chicago just after she was sworn in as one of the first two Native American Women to the United States Congress. A friend of mine told me that she would be in town, and I was fortunate to connect for a plate. Two years later, Ms. Haaland has just recently been sworn in as Secretary of the Interior, the first Native American to hold a United States cabinet position.
I’m one of a rare number of artists using the Wet Plate Collodion Process. The Wet Plate Collodion process is one of the earliest forms of photography, starting in the 1850’s. The process is slow. Each plate is hand-poured. Images are made on 8x10” pieces of tin or glass, which are coated with collodion and silver. The plate, still wet with silver, is then exposed in my large format 8x10” wooden Deardorff camera. I use an old French Petzval brass lens from the 1870’s. There is no negative or film. The plate is poured, exposed and developed on-site. The whole process, from beginning to end, must be finished while the chemistry is wet, which is approximately 15 minutes. I use a small portable box as my darkroom. The process is valued for the level of detail and clarity it allows, as there is no grain. Wet Plate Collodion was very popular during the civil war, and the plates have that "unique wet plate look" that cannot be duplicated. Given the somewhat unpredictability of the chemicals used in this process, flaws and anomalies enhance the image and make tintypes one-of-a-kind pieces of art. Each individual plate is distinct because of the hand pouring technique and the reaction of the chemicals. The plates have a dreamy impressionistic quality that are hard to replicate.
Wet Plate Photography requires a lot of light. My studio has large windows. I also use a few continuous lights. In this instance, Ms. Haaland was late coming to my studio. It was dark. The exposure, as a result, was 20 seconds. She froze for 20 seconds! Given the circumstances, it was a very hard plate to make.
Deb Haaland is a member of the Laguna Pueblo. Her Native American name is “Crushed Turquoise.”. Photo © copyright by Joseph Kayne.