UK-based Dave Shrimpton is a wet plate collodion photographer who creates portraits and still-life work from his studio in Cambridge, which is a treasure trove of curious, vintage items and ephemera. He uses these props as a backdrop to create a fantastical world reminiscent of a bygone age, steeped in romance and mystery.
We were delighted to find out that Dave has been using the LomoGraflok Instant back in his studio. In this interview he shares his experiences shooting with this innovative instant back and talked to us about his curiosity for the ancient and delicate process of wet plate collodion.
Welcome to Lomography magazine. Please tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Dave Shrimpton and I’m an analogue photographer, probably best described as An analogue man in a digital world.
My photography journey is quite a long one, starting with me as creative director at a design agency where we were shooting large photoshoots with digital Hasselblads. Here I found myself spending more time in Photoshop than what I thought of as creating real photography. One thing led to another and I found myself in Transylvania in a small log cabin with no electricity or running water and no camera as I’d fallen out of love with photography. I spent a month watching nature and falling in love with my surroundings. Even though the only camera I had with me was an iPhone, I started capturing the beauty around me and sharing it on Instagram for the first time, where I found like-minded people who also loved beautiful images. While using the iPhone I started to use a photo app that had various settings including Rolleiflex & wet plate, neither of which I understood but I liked the old school images they created.
So I return to England and for the first time I’m shown the work of Vivian Maier, and I instantly fall in love with Rolleiflex images!
The hunt was on to find a camera and to see if I could take “real” photographs. I began experimenting and was flattered to be made runner-up with the Royal Academy in London with one of my street photography series. It was at this time that I saw the incredible photographs of the 2012 Olympic Games captured by Dave Burnett on his 1942 speed graphic using large format film, and another rabbit hole opened in front of me.
My large format journey started by cutting lenses in half and fitting them into 1942 SLR cameras, which are used for my “The lane” series I’m working on. Shortly after that, I started to see the work of wet plate collodion photographers, like my hero Julia Margaret Cameron, capturing images using Frederick Scott Archer’s amazing 1851 wet plate collodion process, and I realised I had left the digital world behind and my photography future was and is analogue. For the first time, I felt I was creating the images and not letting the digital camera do it for me.
Why have you chosen large format over other formats?
For me, it offers endless possibilities because when I shoot large format I have the ability to take control of everything from the lens I squeeze into a camera and making shutters to the different films and substrates I use to capture the images. Also, I’m inspired by the great photographers that shot analogue on large format, like Richard Avedon and George Hurrell, and the fact that they kept it pure with just great composition and mastery of light & shadow.
Wet plate collodion offers me a completely different creative photographic space to work in. Using the 1894 Dallmeyer 3B Petzval lens allows me to see the world in a way that Julia Margaret Cameron would have seen it, and affords endless opportunities to create surreal and dreamlike images on glass and metal.
Your photos have a distinct fantasy/gothic style, do you draw inspiration from anywhere in particular?
I do have a fascination with otherworldliness, and Gothic primordial & naturalistic is my driving force! Fortunately, my studio & darkroom in Cambridgeshire allows me to indulge in the creation of these images. The studio is more like an old curiosity shop than a normal studio, where most models spend the first hour just looking at props and the strange objects I’ve collected. I’m very fortunate that I work with some incredible models who are looking for a fresh sideways look at the world and how their image is captured using analogue. Inspirations range from the 1915 work of Anna Bridgman to my friend Iva Troj Iva Troj Artist and the fantastic world she inhabits and creates.
How did you get on shooting with the LomoGraflok and what did you initially use it for?
I’d been experimenting for some time using large format cameras and ways of getting Instax into 4x5 film holders. So when the LomoGraflok was first advertised, I jumped at the chance to have the more user-friendly way of shooting Instax in a real studio environment. Initially, I wasn’t sure how useful it would be, but I have to say I have been blown away and very impressed with what this Instax back is giving me. It’s now become a regular part of each of my photoshoots, allowing me to share images instantly with models and the people I’m working with. The reason I shoot analogue is because it creates something real, something you can hold, something you can share in a way that digital can never do. The fact that the LomoGraflok back allows me to move from camera to camera and lens to lens creates a very special set of images from each of the photoshoots I work on.
Has it changed or helped the way you shoot?
Yes! It’s made a huge difference to the way I shoot. In the past when I was shooting analogue it would take days, sometimes weeks before the results of a shoot could be seen. But now it’s a part of every shoot that we use to study depth of field, composition and lighting and to capture real images to share from the day’s shoot.
What is coming up for you in 2022?
It looks like 2022 is going to be a busy year for me. February starts with three shoots with two of my favorite models in the studio and “The lane”, followed by a three-day shoot with my artist friend Ivor Troj and three models. Then a trip to Cornwall for a wet collodion youth workshop, a mermaid shoot and a busy year of Introduction to Large Format and Wet Collodion workshops here in my studio.
You can see more of Dave's work via his two Instagram accounts @dave_shrimpton for large & medium format photos and @ds_collodion_portraits for his wet plate collodion shots. you can also check out an interview with Dave via his website.