A sixth plate ferrotype by Christopher O'Brien.

Seán MacKenna, Photographic Artist, Poet and Tragedian.


I took part, for some years, in American Civil War reenacting.
Following a serious illness in 1999 I decided I was no longer fit enough for a military role and retired.

Not wanting to give up reenacting entirely and enjoying its living history element, I decided take the role of a mid-nineteenth century itinerant photographer.

At first I intended to use a dry plate gelatine process to produce ambrotypes and ferrotypes but, very fortunately, I found Bob Szabo's marvelous Collodion Forum.

It was due the generous advice and encouragement of contributors to Bob's forum that I manage to successfully learn and practise the Wet Collodion process here in England, more than 3000 miles away from my teachers.

The site led me to links to Carey Lea's 1867 "Manual of Photography" and Professor Trowler's "Silver Sunbeam". Both these works were of enormous help.

My first difficulty was finding a source of suitable collodion in the U.K. A helpful pharmacist ordered some for me, and when it arrived it bore a label saying "Not for sale to the general public"!

Through the Collodion Forum I found a link to an excellent French site belonging to Philip Aprosio, this along with instructions in the "Silver Sunbeam" enabled me to make my own cotton or nitrocellulose.*

Using this I prepared a batch of collodion and in September 2000 I made, after several trial exposures, a successful ambrotype.

This quarter plate ambrotype was made using a dry plate camera with a darkslide converted for wet plate.

I was extremely fortunate in having this success at the first trial of the process. When I think of the days during which nothing has gone right because the silver bath has been out of order or the iodised collodion has been faulty in some way, I realise just how lucky I was to get everything working well on that first occasion.

Now after some three years experience I have learnt enough to have a good idea why things are going wrong and how to correct them.

I try to ensure that all the equipment and methods I use represent, as accurately as possible, those used by photographers in the wet plate era.

The lenses I use were all manufactured in the 1850s, 1860s or 1870s. The cameras I use are carefully built reproductions of those used at that period.

*I very strongly recommend that no one, without prior chemical laboratory experience, should attempt to make their own nitrocellulose. It is quite unnecessary, as I later discovered that (B.D.H) Merck supply a perfectly suitable collodion for photographic purposes.

To see some of this equipment go to my cameras page.

My results page shows a few examples of the work produced on this equipment.

To see some details of my developing box and my camp set up, please go to my site page

Please view my Frederick Scott Archer page.

"Click Here" if you would like to contact me.