Charles Mason: Denali through Collodion

On view April 30 — Oct 24, 2021


Denali has long captivated photographers, including explorer Bradford Washburn (1911-2007), who pioneered aerial photography while surveying the mountain in the 1930s, and renowned landscape photographer Ansel Adams (1902-1984), who snapped one of the most iconic images of the mountain in 1948. Contemporary Alaska photographer Charles Mason captures present-day Denali National Park through images made with a 19th-century photographic technique called the collodion (also known as “wet plate”) process. Using his Westfalia van as a traveling darkroom, Mason prepares and develops images in the field on glass plates (also known as wet plate photography). He values the technique for its unpredictability – how anomalies in exposure and development often create unexpected dramatic and compelling visual images. The large-scale images he produced for this exhibition offer a new way to see this iconic landscape.

Invented in 1851, collodion photography became the most popular field photography technique. It was widely used until about 1880. Photographers during the American Civil War famously used collodion process to capture images of the conflict. The process involves a large glass negative, which is prepared, sensitized, and developed in a field darkroom before it dries. In the video below, Mason demonstrates the process during his artist residency in Denali National Park in July 2018. Video produced by JR Ancheta, 2021.



This exhibition is presented as part of the Patricia B. Wolf Solo Exhibition Series with support from the Alaska State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Image: Ghosts of Wonder Lake (detail), 2018. Type C print from collodion plate, 40 x 50 in.