French photographer Michaël Tirat has created a clever method to bring his love of wet plate photography on the road. By creating his own portable darkroom, he’s able to travel, shoot, and print in a manner that harkens back to the itinerant photographers of the mid- to late-19th century. Tirat calls his traveling darkroom L’Atelier de l’Alchimiste (The Alchemist’s Workshop) in a nod toward the magical chemistry that occurs when creating wet collodion photography.
While it only took two weeks for Tirat to build his traveling workshop, he spent much longer working out the perfect design in order to accommodate his equipment. Tirat first discovered wet plate photography in 2006 and spent two years experimenting with the chemistry in order to master the technique. Now, with the help of his portable darkroom, he’s able to attend events across Bordeaux and take photographs of attendees on the spot.
For Tirat, part of the satisfaction is introducing people to a traditional photography technique they may not be familiar with. “When I tell them that I’m working on the wet plate process named collodion humide in French, they don’t know anything about [it]…,” Tirat tells My Modern Met. “Everyone is curious and wants to experiment with shooting a portrait with my old cameras. And when they discover all the steps, and the ‘magical’ step of the fixer bath, they realize why I choose the name ‘alchemy.’ A secret alchemy between chemicals, savoir-faire, and antique photography.”
Riding around town with his equipment is no easy task, as the mobile darkroom weighs an impressive 551 pounds (250 kg). But Tirat is in no hurry to arrive at his destinations quickly. Much like his photography, he enjoys the ride and the process.