Capturing today through a lens from the past

Posted: Thursday, February 25, 2010

Professional photographer Ron Klein doesn't take typical portraits.

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Courtesy Of Ron Klein
Courtesy Of Ron Klein

Klein used an antique camera with a lens more than 140 years old for his show "Collodion Portraits" on display at KTOO FM and TV through March. He has captured a series of contemporary images that look as though they could have been taken in the 19th century.

"They're portraits of friends, strangers, people walking by the street, whatever," Klein said. "It allowed me to kind of hone the skills of collodion, which is not an easy process to begin with. Collodion photography is probably the root of all modern photography."

Klein used the collodion "wet plate" concept developed in 1851 by Frederick Scott Archer for the portraits, where you pour emulsion on glass and then expose it and develop it to make a negative.

He participated in the first Wet Plate Collodion Day last year where those using the antique cameras took photographs to see what they could come up with.

"There are maybe 100 people in the world doing this," he said. "So I started out with that and then I continued and over the course of the summer I amassed a fair amount of photographs, just portraits of people and thought it would be a good idea to stick them up in KTOO."

The show includes portraits of people across the socioeconomic spectrum of Juneau.

"It is funny that when you look at this show everybody is kind of equalized," Klein said. "There is a great equalizing force to what this camera did and that's the fun part. Maybe that's the root of the whole thing of what humanity is all about here and that's probably what we're trying to really bring forth with a show that is nothing but people."

Collodion photography creates a unique look and captures an image that appears to be much older than it actually is.

"These things are very rough. When you pour this collodion on the glass it doesn't flow out and make a perfect photograph," Klein said. "What happens on the edges is it kind of peels off and it slides around and it gets real arty real quick. Some of them, because there is chemical staining on it, they're in color in a funny way. They got yellows and browns and blues and stuff."

Klein added an extra step of modern technology for the show.

"All the prints from the show are made from the negatives that I made and then I scanned the negatives on a digital scanner and made digital prints," he said. "It's kind of a cross process where you take the very old and go to the very new."

Klein said he wanted to do the show at KTOO because it's not a typical gallery.

"I designed it so I could print these prints on very cheap paper and make them really big and not have it cost me a lot of money with framing or anything else," he said. "They're basically taped to the walls and that's a different concept than most artists would want to do with their nice original paintings or works. ... They look really good, but it's a real cheap show. I only spent $80 on the whole thing."

Klein said he intends to continue honing his craft with his antique camera.

"This is only the beginning that I want to do with this process," he said. "I have plans for a continuation of portraits of Alaskans and I think I'll call it 'Alaskans on Glass.'"

• Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or

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