The ethereal work of Wet Plate Photographer Jacqueline Roberts

 Ever since we saw Jacqueline’s work for the first time we have always been struck by the sheer emotion and feeling she is able to ooze out of ever single photograph she takes. Jacqueline seems to go to great lengths to carefully compose her three children into beautifully framed positions, while (most of the time) she photographs them on an intruding large format camera where she captures them in serene peaceful moments as if nothing else is around them.

 We were able to catch up with Jacqueline to find out more about  how she works and to particularly find out the meaning behind one of her most (in our opinion) compelling series so far, Triptychs:

 Film’s not Dead: Where did Photography begin for you?

Jacqueline Roberts: I would say it began in Paris, where I grew up. I came to photography through paintings. Paris offers one of the richest art scene and I was very lucky to live nearby many museums, such as the Centre Pompidou, the Louvre, the Musée Picasso or the Musée Quai d’Orsay. It was art on tap. And very much to this day, all these paintings I saw in my youth continue to feed my imagination.

Film’s not Dead: Why Wet plate photography, where did you learn this process and how did you manage to make it into your profession?

Jacqueline Roberts: I started with wet plate photography in 2010, after attending a workshop with Quinn Jacobson in Paris. Before I had been shooting digital and although I love the endless possibilities that the medium offers, I felt very strongly that I had to go back to the roots of photography. Almost to the guts of it. A visceral reaction. I never looked back. For me, wet plate photography is a fascinating process on so many levels. From preparing the chemistry, cutting the glass, flooding the plate, developing and fixing to finally holding in my hands a beautiful glass photograph. I love the ceremonial aspect of it, as much as the craft involved. I love the fact that each plate is unique, I love the imperfections that belong to the plates. The drips, the comets, the pinholes. I love the serendipity that comes with it. I love the juxtaposition between past and present, the ethereal dimension of collodion images. Their timeless quality. In today’s digital era, it is a pure indulgence to hold in your hands a beautiful crafted object.

Film’s not Dead: Why do you choose Children as your subject?

Jacqueline Roberts: It doesn’t matter so much to me whether it is a child or an adult sitting in front of me. I see a person. I disagree with the common perception that sees children as “cute-innocent- creatures”. I find this notion condescending and manipulative. What I love about them is their rawness, their fresh unawareness, their uncompromising ability to be as they are. Their endearing fragility. Their compelling determination. I love their snots, their tears, their scratches. Above all, I love their dignity.

Film’s not Dead: What is it like working with children and how do you manage to capture them in such a serene peaceful moment, especially when your working with such a large camera that can feel quite intrusive?

Jacqueline Roberts: Yes, making ambrotypes with children is probably not the easiest route, I agree. Also, most of my collodion work is done with my own children, they are used to be in front the camera, they know the camera, they know how it works. They are familiar with it. On the other hand, I have observed that the sitter’s behaviour in front of an old wooden camera is totally different from that of a digital one. Taking a photograph turns almost into a ceremony, a ritual. Children remain poised and calm, solemn, almost. The set up, the composition, the focus … is all part of a magical process that captures children’s imagination. They seem to grasp the unique nature of collodion and that gives a sense of occasion to the whole process. More importantly, the image has value.

Film’s not Dead: What would you say has been your most enjoyable series to work on and why?

Jacqueline Roberts: I have enjoyed making every single photograph, but the “Triptychs” series is a very personal work with a high emotional involvement, from me certainly, but more importantly from my children. The “Triptych” series is a labour of love.

Film’s not Dead: Why do you particularly choose to work with the Wet Plate process?

Jacqueline Roberts: To go back to basics. To shadow and light. To highlight the emotions. To see better. To see deeper. But as much as I love the wet plate process, I agree with ambrotypist Luther Gerlach when he says: “Don’t let the process make the art!”. It may be sometimes tempting to use this process to get away with images that, had they been taken with any other medium, would have just been mediocre at best. I use this process for what it is, a medium (not an end). We are too complacent with wet plate images, I indulge in it too. Collodion can blind. We have to see the image beyond the collodion… as what matters in the end is the photographic image, whatever the process. Ultimately, you have to put your heart and soul for this alchemy to work… 

Film’s not Dead: Your triptych series is an extremely moving and powerful series, could you please talk us through where the idea for this body of work came from?

Jacqueline Roberts: The series “Triptychs” is primarily a tribute to my children, all born on the same day, which consists of three triple triptychs. With this series of portraits I wanted to emphasise the connection between them, the fraternal bond, the communion almost, that exists between them. Three distinct individuals yet connected. For me, it was relevant to present the work as triptychs, for the religious connotations it confers to the images but also to embrace the symbolism of the number three in a wider cultural realm. Three represents the triad of family: male, female, and child; the triad of the cycle of life: birth, life, and death; the triad of time: past, present and future; the triad of human nature: mind, body and soul and of course… the Holy Trinity: The Father, The Son and the Holy Spirit… like an allusion to the sacred status of the child in our contemporary western societies.

Film’s not Dead: Your work seems to carry a unique ethereal feel to it. Do you let your children pick the location for the photographs or do you?

Jacqueline Roberts: I love to make plates outside but at the moment I don’t have a mobile darkroom. So I can only shoot as far as the plates can remain wet throughout the process. Too short a radius. So the “Triptych” series was shot in the comfort of our home.

Film’s not Dead: What piece of advice would you give to aspiring photographers of today?

Jacqueline Roberts:  Put your heart into it.

Film’s not Dead: If you could change or add to something to the state of photography now what would that be?

Jacqueline Roberts: The state of photography doesn’t really affect me in my work. To each is own.

Film’s not Dead: Jacqueline is there anything else you would like to leave with the Film’s not Dead readers?

Jacqueline Roberts: …. a good impression…

To see more of Roberts work: Jacqueline Roberts  

Updated:July 29, 2019