Half plate Tintype
” My image of the molten mask grew out of imagining the mask in a post-apocalyptic environment, a nuclear war situation, in which the mask would melt off the face of the wearer. I had in mind photographs, films and texts of the Cold War era of which the mask is a by-product: TV series like Threads or graphic novels like Raymond Briggs’s When the Wind Blows, where the world is devastated by nuclear warfare and the protective measures put in place by governments – masks, shelters, instructions – are worse than useless, only there to calm people down rather than to save them.
So the plate is dark in mood, but then all my work is dark. Creating a still life using the mask relates to other image series of mine incorporating dead things, dying things and decomposing dolls. The dolls I collect date from about the same time as the mask, just after World War II when all sorts of resources were in limited supply and cheap plastic was used. As a result, the dolls suffer from ‘doll disease’. They are played with, grow older and die, all a little differently. The mask is a similar kind of historical object and I wanted to give a sense of its disintegration, the way it’s falling apart over time, deteriorating. Melting.
My father was a biochemist, so I grew up mixing chemicals and melting things. I had a spirit burner at home and I used to set the kitchen table up with all my chemicals. I even set fire to the kitchen floor with it once. I used to go to work with my Dad sometimes. He had a fantastic laboratory and we would go in on Saturday mornings so I could play with the microscopes and things. To begin with, I approached wetplate and photographic processes in general from a scientific angle as much as a creative one. When you’re printing, you see things develop and that’s a chemical process. It also has magic to it – things suddenly appearing. You feel like a mad Victorian scientist obsessed with preservation and galvanism. Like Victor Frankenstein or a Medieval alchemist.
Wet plate is always alchemy. You have to make an educated guess for the exposure and you can’t visualize what the end product’s going to be. Colours are warped – blue to white, red to black. Hand-ground Victorian lenses make the background swirl. The whole process is about unpredictability. I wanted to capture that volatile quality in ‘Molten Mask’. I had to take quite a few plates to get comething I was happy with (it’s hard to predict how a mask will melt). After the images came up in the fix, while they were wet, I filled a syringe with ethanol and dribbled the alcohol onto the tin, dissolving the collodion, making the mask appear, then start to disappear.”
I was born and grew up in south-east England and I now live in the City of Manchester. I first became interested in photography at the age of eleven in the 1970s and I am both self-taught and formally educated. My primary interest is working with historic photographic processes, particularly wetplate collodion, cyanotype, platinum/palladium and gum bichromate. I have had work published in several magazines and books as well as working with an award winning theatre company. My work is in private collections worldwide and I have exhibited in the UK and abroad.
My website is: http://www.johnbrewerphotography.com/about.html