Modern portraits, old techniques
January 25, 2012 8:56 AM   Subscribe

"The Soldier Portraits Project...consists of portrait photographs of soldiers of the United States Army, primarily of the 3rd Infantry Division...[t]he photographs are made using the 150 year old collodion wet plate process - the same process that was used to document much of the period (and many of the soldiers) of the Civil War."

"The wet plate a very slow process, requiring each sitter to remain still and concentrate on the picture-making procedure for up to 60 seconds."

These are some of the photographs, taken from 2007 through 2010.

[Not exactly previously, but certainly related]
posted by cjelli (9 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Poster's Request -- goodnewsfortheinsane

The pictures seem to be mirror images, judging from the berets.
posted by veedubya at 9:10 AM on January 25, 2012

These are very nice. I can't help but wish they had been framed and posed more like 1860s photos, which capture so many other details about uniforms along with the personalities of their faces.

veedubya: The wet plate process flips the image. If you look carefully at old photos of banjo players you'll notice that they were usually posed holding the banjo left-handed and upside down (with the short 5th string on the bottom) so that the resulting image looks like they're holding it right-handed.
posted by usonian at 9:29 AM on January 25, 2012

Is there a Hipstamatic setting to do this?
posted by monospace at 9:41 AM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Beautiful work. Except: too many closeups- you lose the context of body language and uniforms. Plus it's ahistorical. You won't find a single closeup in any of the surviving portraits of civil war-era soldiers and civilians.
posted by TSOL at 10:22 AM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I love collaborations like this, especially when the subjects are given a chance to say something too. LTC Timothy Monahan's comments are very clear-eyed and powerful for me.

"I have no illusions about my impending service in Iraq or any abstract, grandiose thoughts about my role there. As a physician, I want to save lives and relieve any suffering of my fellow soldiers. As a father and husband, I want to return safely to my wife and children. It will be for the historians and future generations of Americans to decide if our sacrifices were, ultimately, worth the cost."
posted by book 'em dano at 10:38 AM on January 25, 2012

Why do eyes always look so...unnerving in these types of photographs?
posted by polywomp at 10:49 AM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, how does someone expend so much effort getting the the technology right so the photos have an authentic period look...and spend no effort getting the portraiture right? I'm not saying they have to be dressed like Jayden Reb or Dylan Yank but come on.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:40 AM on January 25, 2012

on the whole disappointing, for the reasons others have mentioned.

going for the shallow focus "sharp face, blurred shoulders" that is de rigueur in contemporary portraiture smacks of the hipstamatic.

perhaps a fine way of bringing attention to faces and humanity of the soldiers, but totally achievable using contemporary techniques and technology. i'd like to see more examples the modern soldier portrayed in the historical style as a kind of evaluation of both the modern soldier and the historical style.

still, the series does accomplish this on occasion, as some of the photos do manage to successfully achieve the historical affect.

if you want to see historical examples of soldier portraits, a search of the flickr commons for "soldier portraits" will yield quality results.
posted by striatic at 1:21 PM on January 25, 2012

It needs a Ken Burns style voice-over.
posted by mattoxic at 6:06 PM on January 25, 2012

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