© 2017 by Emma Powell. All rights reserved.

 

The Impermanence of Life and Light

 

The Impermanence of Life and Light

2007-2008

 

This project is a study of spirits, both ethereal and chemical. Using the  historic wet-plate collodion ambrotype process together with modern digital printing, I create images inspired by nineteenth-century spirit photography. In my photographs I “conjure up” spirits by creating the look of transparent figures. The imperfections of the wet-plate process also add to their otherworldly appearance.

The wet-plate process was invented 1851. The chemicals involved in this process are less sensitive to light than modern films, so the exposure times are much longer. This enables me to produce the effect of transparent spirits by moving during the exposure. I enjoy being part of a tradition in the history of photography, as well as participating in the contemporary interest in historic processes shared by artists today.  

During the mid-nineteenth century, paralleling the first explorations of the photographic medium, a movement developed that focused on belief in the existence of spirits. Photography was used as a scientific means for documenting these spiritualist activities. The experimental nature of these historic photographs mirrors the development of chemical processes. I decided to make spirit photographs, not as a spiritualist believer, but as a photographer exploring the limits of the medium.  Within my work I address issues of permanence—both physical and cultural—age, and death. I use the vaporous properties of the process to create new ghostly meditations on life, light, and the photographic object.