Deborah Parkin is an English photographer who expresses herself using medium format, 4x5 and wet-plate collodion cameras. Working with large format cameras allows her to slow down and connect deeply with her subjects.
Photographing children through the process of Wet Plate Collodium, Deborah Parkin stops time to encapsulate the quietness of childhood. While we all tend to live a fast paced life, she chooses a process that requires stillness and patience. In a collaborative experience with the children sitting before her, everyone has to hold still for several seconds so that she can record an incredible moment: the moment where everyone gets absorbed and escapes reality, where peace and harmony reveal a magic and timeless beauty.
Within you there is a stillness and sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself. Hermann Hesse
Why did you choose this subject?
I love working with children & I am fascinated by childhood. I wanted to see how a child of the 21st century could be portrayed using a 19th Century Victorian photographic process, Wet Plate Collodion. It’s a process that requires complete stillness. I wanted to see how the child would react to having to sit in complete repose for around 5 to 30 seconds – the antithesis to our fast paced lives. I wanted to capture their inner stillness, I wanted to capture something beautiful.
What do you see when you look at these photos?
I feel an enormous amount of love & pride – not necessarily at my work but at the children. This series is very collaborative & so I feel it’s their work as much as mine. I believe all children are born beautiful – I feel these children have beautiful souls & feel that when I look at their pictures.
What research and production did you go through to make these images?
I went on a workshop to learn Wet Plate Collodion with Carl Radford & then I spent many months in my studio working with still life trying to learn the craft – trying to perfect it as humanely possible. I already knew I wanted to make portraits of childhood, so I needed to know what I was doing before I embarked on this project (you have to work quickly with children therefore you have to know what you are doing). This series started almost a year after the workshop and it’s still ongoing – I have many more children wanting to be part of this project, which is wonderful.
Do your images help the viewer understand the subject in a new way?
This is a difficult question to answer because if there is one thing I have learnt lately is that many viewers will bring their feelings to each portrait. The portraits seem to conjure up various responses that I believe come from within the viewer – it’s as if they have touched something deep inside them – a memory or an experience. The portraits are more than a picture of a child in front of the camera – they seem to also be pictures of others too.
What did you learn by making these images?
That things don’t always go to plan. That the children will always give me more than I can ever dream of. That I have minimal control – whether it be over the process, the child or the way the viewer sees them.