While awareness for mental health is on the rise in the public sphere, there is much still to be done when it comes to removing the very real stigma associated with mental ill-health. Through his new project, Mental Collodion, Simon Riddell is endeavouring to inspire positivity in the subject through his art. We spoke with Simon to find out more about Mental Collodion and the medium he utilises.
For as long as art as existed it has offered a magnifying lens to study and explore all assets of human experience and the human psyche. Where words can often fail, art captures in a raw form. It can depict complex perspectives, and ideas with ease like a universal language that operates beyond borders and beyond culture. More importantly here, the final piece offers an incredible insight into the mindset of the artist that composed it.
Simon Riddell, owner of SR Film Photography, fundamentally understands this core concept and uses his work to raise awareness into wellbeing and mental health. After all, it would be a gross understatement to say that the events of the last twelve months have proven to be an anchor on the mental health of thousands of individuals across the UK. Faced with uncertainty and the staggering impact of social distancing, depression and anxiety have spread almost like an invisible unstated second pandemic among the populace. It’s something that Simon unfortunately understands all too well. But opportunity arose – as it so often does in these situations – and a new project was given form and life. That project is Mental Collodion.
But to get the whole picture, we need to step back and look at what distinguishes Simon’s portfolio from the countless others in the field: the use of wet plate collodion. Far removed from the convenience of more contemporary mediums, the wet-collodion process is a highly technical one, requiring patience and care. Today, there are only about a thousand individuals that still use this process for their work, making Simon’s work innately special and unique from the outset.
The long exposure time allows for movement to be captured and preserved, rather than a single frame wrenched from greater context. Creatives like Simon can utilise this aspect to great effect, with experimentation often yielding incredible results.
Crucially, for Simon, wet plate collodion offers a mindful escape as he explained in more detail. “The process is incredibly slow and technical. I have to be completely immersed in what I’m doing and be methodical with it. There’s no margin of error. The chemicals that are used are dangerous and very flammable. I have to be focussed. On the other side, the sitter is in a more relaxed position because the process is so slow compared to traditional photography.” There’s a peace which comes with the work, a space to express himself in an impactful form.
For the sitter, the process is often a cathartic one, allowing a visual representation of the emotions that often get pushed into the background.
From an aesthetic perspective, the final image feels wholly vintage and classical despite the anachronistic individuals framed within. There’s also the historical context, rendering a solemn edge to Simon’s work. One can almost imagine the images of patients at various hospitals rendered immortal in wet collodion throughout the 19th century. It’s a sobering point of comparison.
Yet, Simon marries the techniques of old within the frame of a modern subject matter and perspective. The result is entirely captivating and evocative, bringing new life into a medium which many had considered long past its prime.
Simon has also adapted to the unique lockdown restrictions in what would normally be a face-to-face situation. “I’ve developed a way of shooting a wet plate portraiture session online, with the exposure process taking the better part of a minute.”
Ultimately, Simon’s work speaks for itself. The emotions made bare and raw and unfiltered. The presentation is often haunting, though the end image is a powerful one indeed.
Find out more here: https://srfilmphotography.co.uk/mentalcollodion/