On Reclaiming the Past and the Pleasure of Alchemy
by Amelia Fleetwood
Lindsey Ross has spent the last 10 years honing her photography skills in her Santa Barbara studio. Based in the city’s hip Funk Zone, Ross is a master of the fine art of wet plate collodion photography.
37-year-old Ross was born in Columbus, Ohio, where she attended a high school for the arts. In 2008, her decision to embark on an MFA program at the Brooks Institute brought her to Santa Barbara.
At Brooks, Ross was encouraged to experiment with film using larger format cameras. She explains, “I was not interested in working with digital photography since archival qualities of that medium are yet to be proven.” Her “Aha!” moment came when she viewed a collection of early 20th-century prisoner mugshots on glass plates, taken using the wet plate collodion process. It occurred to Ross that those prisoner mug shots would long outlive the photographs we shoot today on our phones and digital cameras.
“This vintage medium really has a weight to it,” she continues. “It has importance no one is capturing with the contemporary mediums and technology available with digital photography.”
It was then Ross began working with wet plate collodion. She creates tintypes, as well, but Ross clarifies, “The tintype is a misnomer. ‘Tin’ was just a vernacular word to describe a photo on metal. There were all sorts of metals used for tintypes, but I use enameled aluminum.”
Nostalgia plays a large part in Ross’s attraction to doing things the old-fashioned way. A return to this historical process cannot be matched by any iPhone filter or modern camera.
“With the wet plate collodion process, I found I really liked working with my hands. I felt emotionally and aesthetically connected to this medium. I also loved the slow pace of it and its many visceral aspects, the alchemy, the smells, the fact that there are so many steps, the constraints and how it is less immediate than other types of photography.”
Ross also enjoys shooting with view cameras. Looking through the glass viewfinder, where the image is upside down and backward, challenges her creative process. “It automatically takes me out of the left, more linear brain, and into the right brain, where I’m looking at design — light, and shadow vs. a landscape that is right in front of me.” It is tapping into this non-verbal part of her brain and her intelligence that Ross particularly enjoys.
Among her influences, Ross names female photographers Marcia Resnick, Francesca Woodman, and Sally Mann, but also counts a visit to the Irving Penn retrospective at the Getty Museum in 2008 as a major turning point. “I loved Penn because he was the A-list fashion photographer of his day. But Penn was also printing all his own work and using his own formulas, and that really resonated with me. He could have delegated his printing to someone else, but he kept his hand in the process.”
These days Ross can be found in her Funk Zone photo studio where she does commission portraits for clients by appointment. She does pop-ups at local and statewide events, including the popular Echo Park Craft Fair in Silverlake and the Mercado Sagrado event in Malibu Canyon. She can sometimes be found at Ojai’s In the Field clothing and lifestyle shop, and the Proof Lab in Mill Valley throughout the year. All appointments can be made through her website, lindseyrossphoto.com
Her work can also be viewed in the community of Guadalupe, near Santa Maria on the Pacific Coast Highway.
“I love photographing people using this process,” Ross says. “It’s a unique style of portraiture, and there’s an intimacy because of the slow pace. I love the way it shifts the light and transforms portraits into something completely different than what we see in real life.”
Landscape photography is another big draw for Ross, who has lived in Wyoming and has a passion for the American West of the late 19th century. Lugging her 200-pound camera, Ross scales mountains and hillsides to capture her shot. Positioning the immense camera along bumpy roads and steep hillsides is always a challenge, and the physical nature of this work means that it can take an entire day to create a single plate, capturing the right light and moment.
“I started working with a gallery in Jackson, WY and began shooting landscapes,” Ross shares. “It was harder than I thought, but I love it. You have to think about the wind and the temperature. When it does work, it’s beautiful and there is so much detail! I have a real connection to each image because it takes a full day to create it. Afterward, I have stories about the shoot, about the land, and the day we had.”
It’s this connection — the back-and-forth between nature and humans — that Ross captures in her uniquely old-fashioned way.
To schedule a trip to Ross’s studio, visit lindseyrossphoto.com. Keep up to date with her work and pop-up events by following Ross on Instagram @thealchemistress.