Civil War Style in a Digital Age

By AUSTIN MCMILLAN

Surrounded by the consistent growth of the digital age, two Atlanta-based photographers band together to bring a historic twist on modern composition. Keri Weiland and Emma De Cardenas are two award-winning photographers who came together with a goal to create a company that would help tell the stories of their clients’ lives using historic and contemporary photography techniques. These processes include both wet plate and sun print photography.

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Emma De Cardenas preparing a client for a wet plate exposure during a wet plate photography session. Photo by Silver Magnolia Creative

ATLANTA, Ga. — “Whenever you’ve gotten your first Polaroid, it’s kind of this mind-boggling experience to see this photo just reveals itself in your hands.” Keri Weiland said, “That’s the same kind of magic that comes with this process.”

Silver Magnolia Creative is an Atlanta-based photography business that is going beyond the scopes of digital photography. Two photographers, Emma Elaine De Cardenas and Keri Weiland, historic processes of wet plate and sun shot photography to produce unique experiences for their clients.

“Her innate ability to recognize the small moments has a really big influence on her photographs,” said Jennifer Culp, a former client of De Cardenas.

“[It’s a] One of a kind moment with a one of a kind process,” Weiland said. This process is the art of wet plate photography.

Wet Plate Photography

De Cardenas said wet plate photography is a process that dates to the Civil War. A sheet of metal is cut and submerged in various chemicals that transform it into a light-sensitive object. That sheet of metal is then exposed and reborn to show a one of a kind piece of art for their client to enjoy.

Weiland said that a photo printed on metal, like in the wet plate process, can last hundreds of years. She said a big reason we have records from Civil War is because of this process, but a lot of the photos are from the aftermath because it takes around 30 minutes to take a single photo.

Weiland said these photos are unique because they will last through generations, whereas digital prints on paper are estimated to last only 100 years.

“The only reason we have any photographs from history is because of this process,” said Weiland.

The wet plate process takes about 30 minutes per photo and the session typically lasts about 2-3 hours. De Cardenas said the photo is one of a kind because it is not perfect and cannot be edited. The imperfections are what makes the photo unique.

 

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The final product of a wet plate photography session with Silver Magnolia Creative. Photo by Silver Magnolia Creative

 

Sun Shot Photography

Another historic process that Silver Magnolia Creative use is sun prints. This process is not used with portraits because it is all about telling a story with objects.

De Cardenas said the sun print process involves taking inanimate objects and flattening them out to make a print. This process can be done with flowers from a wedding bouquet, clothes from a baby, or anything that can be pressed.

De Cardenas said a sheet of paper, or whatever material they are going to print on, is exposed to chemicals that make it sensitive to light. The items that the client wants to be in the shot are pressed against the paper and it is all put in the sun.

After the paper is fully exposed they then put the print in another chemical to stop it from being light sensitive and it creates a unique print for the client.

Award Winning Collaboration

The duo has really stuck out amongst competition by receiving awards both collaboratively and individually. Silver Magnolia Creative received The Knot best of weddings award for the Atlanta area from 2013-2016.

Silver Magnolia Creative has also been recognized in The Knot best of weddings hall of fame, which consists of only 11 photographers thus far.

Additionally, both artists have received a long list of recognition and awards for their individual work of the past decade.

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A Love for Photography

Although Weiland likes to stay away from digital photography as much as she can, she has found her own unique take on photography through the digital world.

Weiland enjoys playing video games, particularly the Fallout series. In this series, players are placed in an open world where they can go wherever they want and do whatever they want.

Being the artist that she is, Weiland has brought her eye for photography into the game. Weiland said she likes to set up shots and find the perfect angle within the game and takes screenshots to act as photos.

Weiland then takes these photos to photoshop and edits them to look like postcards and prints them out and sends them to herself and friends. Weiland said video games are like a vacation for her, so she likes to create her own souvenirs in which to show off to her friends.

After falling in love with film photography in undergraduate school De Cardenas knew she wanted to pursue further knowledge in graduate school at the Savannah College of Art and Design.

De Cardenas said she first fell in love with the darkroom during graduate school. While getting bachelors at the University of West Georgia, De Cardenas loved going into the darkroom to process photos and would immediately scan them to see on her computer, but when she got to graduate school her professors challenged her to do something different. It was this challenge that made De Cardenas print her film photos onto paper rather than just scanning them in.

“It was like magic,” De Cardenas said as the photos just slowly appeared on the paper in the dark room. De Cardenas that was the moment she fell in love with the darkroom.

 

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Emma De Cardenas and Keri Weiland exposing photo’s in a dark room. Photo by: Silver Magnolia Creative

 

A New Trend?

De Cardenas and Weiland said they do not believe these styles of photography are going to become a large trend for a consumer. The two said they are hopeful that the process does become more popular and that people will become more aware of the historical styles of photography.

Both photographers said they have a love for film and historical photography, but they are stuck in a digital age.

If you are in the market for a wedding photographer, Silver Magnolia Creative has a blog that helps guide potential clients through the process of finding a photographer. De Cardenas said they want to help people find the right photographer for the style the client is looking for.

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