Tiny Photographic Images: The wet-plate collodion jewelry of Angie Pember Brockey—Bree Lamb
Angie Pember Brockey creates beautiful, detailed and delicate pieces of art that combine the highly skilled processes of wet-plate collodion and jewelry making. Her tiny photographic images evoke a sense of mystery and wonder, and the final pendants demonstrate unique unions between subject matter and setting. The small scale of the work encourages the viewer to look closely, and in doing so the attention with which each piece is created becomes incredibly evident.All jewelry pictured here was designed by Angie Pember Brockey.
Bree Lamb: What is your artistic background?
Angie Pember Brockey: I grew up loving art of all kinds but I began spending a lot of time drawing in middle school. It was my main interest for quite a while, mostly because it was the most accessible. In my early 20’s I spent a short time in college focusing on art but then soon decided to dedicate myself to music, singing, writing music and lyrics, and performing with my sister in our band. We had great success, traveling, singing and recording until our sibling issues became too much to handle and we went our separate ways. I was too devastated to continue on my own with the music, so several years later, after I had somewhat recovered from the music heartbreak I decided to get back to my visual art. I’ve always been fascinated by oils and watercolor and I began teaching myself. I still love to pick up my brushes every once in a while but now I have found something I can put my creative effort into and see the results relatively quickly compared to a painting which can sometimes take months to complete.
BL: How did you first become interested in the wet-plate process?
APB: My interest in wet-plate took me by complete surprise. I’ve actually never considered myself a photographer nor did I ever have the desire to learn photography. I was totally content with drawing and painting. My husband, Justin is the photographer in the family and had worked in digital for several years and then became interested in wet-plate. I really wasn’t happy about the large purchases he was making for this new hobby. The chemicals, reproduction 1800’s bellows camera and lenses were quite a bit more money than I expected and a lot to invest in for something he could easily lose interest in. He was so excited so I tried to be understanding and patient. Justin started taking shots and developing them in our makeshift darkroom but I still had no interest. He asked me continuously for about 3 weeks to try taking my own shot using this historic process and then I finally gave in. I fell in love with it immediately. I was hooked.
The whole process from start to finish is sensory satisfying. It doesn’t feel anything like “taking pictures” and in wet-plate I can pour myself into every step of the process. It feels more like an art to me than digital or standard modern photography. It’s getting back to the roots…very organic…and the result is really beautiful and timeless.
BL: When did you begin to work with small precious images? What are the benefits and difficulties of working with such small objects?
APB: I don’t know why but I’ve always loved tiny things, intricate beautiful wonderments, little things that say a lot or have a lot of quality detailed workmanship. Several months after I had started working in wet plate I remember thinking that I’d like to make something for my mother and sister for Mother’s Day. Justin, my husband, had given a couple of beautiful collodion photos to both of them already and I wanted to do something different. This is when I first began creating tiny photos for jewelry. They were so excited about their pieces and wanted me to post them on Facebook and it all took off from there.
I enjoy saying a lot with such a tiny expression and piecing together just the right setting or stone with just the right image. I’ve always been one who likes being involved in the framing of my paintings, giving them the finishing touch, the final resolve. In making jewelry I’m again “framing” my work, just in miniature form. It can be a challenge taking a photo on such a small piece of metal, glass or mica and getting the subject matter centered correctly. I usually have to shoot the same scene a few times to get the result that I want but it’s all worth it to see the image revealed and to have it evoke the feeling I was going for.
BL: What inspires the work? Where do you draw your references?
APB: I’m inspired by so many things. I think what inspired me in the beginning of my photographic journey was remembering what made me happiest when I was a kid. It really wasn’t toys or playing. It was dreaming or feeling. I remember how I felt when I walked into a sunlit room, when I saw light from a window passing through glass or crystal. My memories take me back to when my family and I made visits to an older lady’s home whose name was Ruby. She loved the color lavender of which I think she painted every room, and she had crystal chandeliers and a small glowing harp that slowly dripped warm oil down the strings. I also remember her piano room where she had a beautiful grand piano and a tiny child sized grand piano that had the most wonderful warm yet tinny tinkling sound. It’s so weird to think of now what sparked my imagination as a kid but I was in another world at Ruby’s house. I still love light and how it looks coming in through the window and I also love the rain and nature. There are so many things to explore in the tiniest details of a leaf or feather.
BL: Could you briefly take us through your process, from concept to final product?
APB: If there’s a will there’s a way. Many times I will have an idea for a shot, start to do what I need to do to set up the shot and then get more ideas as I go to round out the final look or feel. If the lighting isn’t right then the photo won’t evoke the feeling I want to experience from the piece. I usually work with natural light and fill in with artificial when needed. Some of my pieces are very realistic and some take on a more fantastical, fairytale theme but I love the fact that wet plate collodion always has, for me, a mysterious quality. The collodion and silver have a life all their own and this helps me in letting go of some of my perfectionism. You just have to flow with it and see what it gives you. I’m not in complete control, which is healthy for me.
To me the photo is always the most important part of the piece. I usually have to wait for just the right time of day to utilize the right sunlight. I have a bay window on the south side of my house that I use quite a bit for setting up and taking my shots. Lately I’ve been using my 5×7 1912 Agfa bellows camera and an 1800’s Voigtlander lens. Old lenses are the best. I decide what I’m going to shoot and then typically pick out a setting and cut my piece of metal to fit into the setting, or I pick out or cut a piece of glass or mica stone to fit. I place the tiny plate in the camera, take the shot and expose the image anywhere from 3 to 45 seconds. I develop the tiny piece in the darkroom, fix it and then evaluate whether or not the shot is a “keeper”. After the photo has dried I varnish the piece with a mixture of shellac and lavender oil which was also used in the 1800’s. This protects the image.
Setting the piece can happen right away or days later. Sometimes I set the photo into an already made high quality setting and other times I make my own sterling silver setting using solder and a jewelers torch. It just depends on the photo or what a commissioned project requires. I love having so many options. Packaging is also an important part of the experience and I like to find fun ways for the recipient to receive and store their special little wonderment.
BL: Do you have a vision for the body of work (exhibition, book etc.)?
APB: I do have ideas to explore. I really want to delve more into larger Tintypes and Ambrotypes and then also have photo pendant ideas that work well with the larger theme for exhibitions, more publications and eventually a book or two. I’ve also been considering giving classes in joining wet plate and jewelry. I’m just excited to flow with this process and utilize it to explore what makes me happy.
To view or purchase Angie’s work please visit her Etsy shop:
Or visit her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/angiebrockey/photos_all
Bree Lamb- Bree Lamb received an MFA in Photography at the University of New Mexico and a BFA in Photography from Pennsylvania State University. She has spent the last six years working for different organizations including the Center for Photography at Woodstock, Wildenstein & Company, Fovea Exhibitions, Mesilla Digital Imaging Workshops and photo technique magazine. Visit her website at http://www.breelamb.com/