Back from the dead? Kickstarter campaign aims to revive glass-plate photography

Film certainly isn’t dead, but what about its predecessor? One Kickstarter campaign is working to revive glass-plate photography by making the medium commercially available.

Galaxy Photography, a company that’s helped bring back sheet film and 120 format, has launched a new project to produce glass-plate negatives. Compared to film, images shot on glass provide a smoother transition from shadows to highlights because the glass diffuses the light, the company says. That quality helps create a realistic large-format image with a lot of depth.

The orthochromatic plates are not sensitive to red light, which makes them ideal for shooting portraits without having to cover up acne and redness. The weight and thickness of the glass plates also make them less susceptible to bending and tearing, and actually helps to make printing on photo paper from them a bit easier.

The use of dry glass plates in photography stretches all the way back to 1871, when doctor and photo enthusiast Richard Leach Maddox found a new recipe that increased the sensitivity of wet plates. Prior to that? Wet glass plates had to be developed on the spot, which meant not only bringing a camera with you, but an entire darkroom.

The dry glass plates from Galaxy are a bit less complicated, but still need special care. Glass plates are used with a plate holder that’s left covered until you are ready to take the photo. After exposing the image, the plate can be removed from inside the holder when processing it in a dark room. Galaxy recommends using the contact printing method for developing.

Of course, throwing it way back to the era of glass-plate photography isn’t cheap — a pack of 10 4-inch by 5-inch plates will cost $90. That’s because the materials and production costs are so high. Galaxy says that if it can raise $300,000, it will be able to bring those projected costs down by at least 30 percent. The plates also need to be used in a special holder, which is listed under a separate Kickstarter project. A 4-inch by 5-inch holder costs $99.

The glass-plate photography project needs $10,000 to come to life, with the Kickstarter for the plate holders still in the works. Shipment is expected by February 2017.

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