A photographer used a shooting style popularized in the mid-1800s to create amazing period-esque photos of the cast members from Greta Gerwig’s Little Women.
Wilson Webb captured the cast of Little Women using what is known as the collodion process, a method of photography created in 1851.
Also known as the tin type or wet plate photography, the process calls for photos to be taken while the tin or plate is wet with light sensitive chemicals. Webb added that the photo must be exposed before plate drys or else the process will not work.
‘Wet-collodion process is only sensitive only to blue light (UV to be exact) and that is why period studios used daylight to expose their images,’ the photographer explained. ‘We couldn’t depend on the natural light, and it was winter, so I had to substitute flashes with the UV glass removed.’
Included in the photos were the entire March family: Saoirse Ronan, Florench Pugh, Emma Watson, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern and Bob Odenkirk. Also included in the photos were Timothée Chalamet, Louis Garrel and James Norton.
‘Emma (Watson) was especially intrigued and said that she wanted a wet-plate studio in her own house,’ he said.
‘Greta (Gerwig) and Amy (Florence Pugh) were excited to see each image and appreciated the work that was involved. I would often take each plate to them to look at, right after we exposed and developed them.’
Webb used an Intrepid 8×10 view camera and a lens mount that he custom made to take the images. With the mount, Webb attached a 292mm f.3 brass petzval lens that was made in London by J.H. Dallmeyer in 1881.
‘Each plate (or photo) was 8×10” and each required about 10 minutes to prep, expose, and develop plus another 30 mins to clean, dry and then seal with varnish – using an open flame,’ Webb explained.
‘8×10 images are very rare historically because the size of the image determined the cost of the photo so larger images were quite expensive.’
All the plates are one of a kind, making it impossible to create copies. Webb described that the image would eventually turn black if the plate is not ‘washed, fixed or properly sealed.’
Webb shared that he used approximately 25,000 Watt-seconds of flash. He said that the light was so bright that he and the castmembers could ‘feel and smell the heat of the light, similar to a thunderstorm.’
‘What the actors smelled was a small amount of ozone being created as the enormous power of the flashes split apart nitrogen and oxygen molecules,’ he added.
What the various actors and actresses were wearing was also considered when taking the photos as warm colors can appear dark while cool colors appear light in the images.
‘The actors had to sit very still, not because the exposure took a long time (as they did historically and was part of the reason old photos looked so stiff, the other reason being that they were trying to copy the style of paintings) but because the amount of image that was in focus is less than 1 inch deep,’ Webb explained. ‘It takes 10-20 seconds, after focusing, to set up the plate to be exposed so if someone moved slightly the photo would be out of focus.’
Webb set up the lights and backdrops on the sound stage where the film was shooting the March home interior set. He would wait for people to have a little free time before having them come over to take photos.
‘I worked with Jess, the prop master, to try and incorporate some different backgrounds that might correspond with each character,’ Webb said. ‘The focus was so shallow that some photos worked better than others.’
The photographer described the actors as being ‘very accommodating,’ adding that they ‘enjoyed seeing the involved process of making each image.