Bernard Testemale’s interest in the wet plate collodion process—a method of photography that dates back to 1851—came as a result of his disinterest in digital photography. He aspired to a more thoughtful and intentional approach to shooting portraits. He began exhaustively studying the history of photography, traced the linage of wet plates, thought about big wave surfing, its primitive, man-versus-nature attributes, and saw a link. The results are impactful, immersive images, which he collected in his new book, The Big Wave Riders of Hawaii.
“As soon as I tried it I fell in love,” Testemale says of the project, which is also featured in TSJ 25.3. “When I’m shooting the surfers, they all see my passion, that it’s a slow process, a different set of values. It’s a collaboration. I show them the portraits I’ve shot. I try to get them relaxed. I shoot them—sometimes they’re with me for a couple of hours. I go into my portable darkroom and develop in 20 seconds. Then I come out and put the plate in the fixer, and together we watch the photo come to life.”
In the video below, Testemale further discusses his process, his equipment, and gives us a look at a photographic method that dates back more than 150 years.
Get a copy of Big Wave Riders of Hawaii here: