Today’s technology enables almost anyone to take a decent photograph. That’s recently been acknowledged by the addition of a new category for the international 2015 Travel Photographer of the Year awards: Smart Shot – for images taken using a mobile phone or tablet. Capturing moments in time for posterity has come a long way since 1851, when British man Frederick Scott Archer invented the Wet Plate Collodion photographic process.
Revolutionary at the time, this made it possible to capture an image on the surface of a piece of glass. Archer named this Ambrotype, meaning ‘immortal’ in Greek. It was complicated, time-consuming, and the chemicals involved could be dangerous to the photographer. But it was all about the final result.
Miquel Salom’s recent exhibition ‘ICTUM OLIM II’– in the Sant Domingo Convent church in Pollença – enabled visitors to understand this process and see the extraordinary results. The first ‘ICTUM OLIM’ exhibition had been in 2012 at Palma’s Casal Solleric, consisting of Ambrotype images taken in Miquel’s studio.
‘ICTUM OLIM II’ was born out of the self-taught photographer’s love for Pollença: “I have had a house here for many years and wanted to capture the poetic beauty of the surrounding sea and land. I have a strong connection with the local landscape.” He decided to use this “authentic process from the genesis of photography” after being inspired by the work of 19th-century photographer Carleton Watkins, whose images of Yosemite he had seen during a visit to Stanford University, California.
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He followed Watkins’s philosophy and researched the methodology. The challenges of working outdoors with the required 18 sensitive chemicals included “the temperature, humidity, and atmospheric pressure.” Not only did Miquel build his own detachable camera, he also set up a processing lab – all within a tent such as those used by travelling photographers of that period. This took a year. Then there were the hours spent setting up the tent on site, going through the 22 procedural steps required to capture his images, and the subsequent packing up. “Everything fitted in my Prius!” said Miquel.
He would travel to the location at midnight, hiding his chemicals under a bush, so that they would become stable for use the following morning. It was work that had to be done in spring or autumn, or on a fine winter’s day. Summer would have been too hot. The unavoidable small imperfections of the wet process add to the images’ beauty and create an aged quality. Look closely at what appears to be an early photograph and you may spot a 21st-century hint: a distant woman in a bikini emerging from the sea, or a motor boat at anchor.
Unlike many of the snaps and selfies most of us take (and later probably delete), each of Miquel’s extraordinary and evocative images has its own story. He showed us his photograph of Formentor lighthouse – a place of incredible wild beauty. He had gone to the location at 4.30am to set up his equipment (which he had transported there the previous evening). When his assistant arrived at 7am to help, the sky was red as the day was beginning and, in the resulting image, distant Menorca is highlighted by the sun’s rays. “When I finally had the photo, I left the tent and found 20 wild goats surrounding it! A magical moment,” said Miquel, who at one point in our conversation likens taking the wet plate containing the image to holding one’s new-born child.
‘ICTUM OLIM II’ – this extraordinary body of 21st-century photographic images of north Mallorca – was created with dedication, patience, and at some risk. His unique images are testament to Miquel Salom’s love for Mallorca and respect for the origins of photography.
More about Miquel Salom
We visit the Mallorcan photographer Miquel Salom in his studio to discover a unique type of photography combining an ancient method with a contemporary artist. […] Miquel Salom – Ancient Art in Contemporary Photography