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Slow Selfie Makes Present Look Past

Patrick Andrade's throwback RELIC studio uses collodion wet-plate photo processes.

Over the course of several assignments, he photographed numerous stories in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Andrade's inspiration for overseas work was photographing the devastation of 9/11.

The collodion process uses plates of aluminum.

Andrade started RELIC in his garage before moving to a studio in Sunnyside.

War conflict photojournalist Patrick Andrade has turned a corner with an old-school process. His RELIC studio in Sunnyside uses collodion-coated plates, not pixels, to tell his subjects’ stories.
A picture's worth a thousand words, or so they say, but are all pictures created equal?

Denver-based photographer Patrick Andrade seems to be on a mission to uncover the value of a photo and the process behind it. After an action-packed start to his career, he re-rooted himself and his business in Colorado to open RELIC photo studio, home of the #slowselfie.

Practicing the old school art of wet plate collodion photography, invented in the 19th century, Andrade primarily produces personal imagery, such as heirloom portraits, out of his studio.  

But in the beginning, photography first caught the Castle Rock native's eye in middle school, and he worked on the class yearbook and student paper. He went to Colorado State University's technical journalism program and dove headfirst into photo classes.

Throughout college, Andrade collected incessant internships at The Coloradoan, the Loveland Reporter-Herald, and others. After graduating from CSU, he moved to Manhattan to intern at Newsday and later freelance for the New York Times and other publications, where he photographed crime scenes, stakeouts, press conferences and other regular urban happenings for a few years.

"Then, I was living in Brooklyn at the time of 9/11," he said, recalling the aftermath of the attacks. He photographed the devastation and his images were published in Time magazine as well as other international titles. Thereafter, "the story continued to Afghanistan, and I just wanted to continue covering what  9/11 led to. It was all my money, investment and risk," Andrade says.

Over the course of several two- to three-week visits overseas, he produced work for Newsweek on warlords who were gathering arms and ammunition from citizens in northern Afghanistan.

"It never really felt dangerous," the conflict photographer says. "It was sketchy, but it was beautiful. . . . It made me realize how many news sources there are and how many people from all over the world cover a single story."

Going homePatrick Andrade's throwback RELIC studio uses collodion wet-plate photo processes.

Andrade traveled to and covered Iraq as well, concentrated more intently on combat. After two two-month trips, he was ready to return to Colorado and hunker down with his wife.  "I didn't want to worry my family anymore," he says.

Once back, he attended a workshop led by a Denver photographer, Quinn Jacobson, who instructed on 19th century photo processes.

According to Andrade, the wet plate collodion method has experienced a revival in the last several years. Many fine art photographers use the method for a handcrafted aesthetic, while others bring the old-fashioned technique to capture historical events, such as Renaissance festivals and Civil War reenactments.

After attending the workshop, Andrade was captivated. "I learned more and more by just doing it over and over," he says.

The intricate collodion process uses plates of aluminum -- for final products called tintypes or ambrotypes. Within the span of 10 to 15 minutes, the photographic material must be coated, sensitized, exposed and developed, requiring a portable darkroom for use in the field. The process results in a negative image on a transparent support.  The plate is coated with collodion -- a flammable, syrup-like concoction of pyroxylin (or nitrocellulose), ether and alcohol -- which acts as a binding agent and initiates light sensitivity. It is placed in a bath of silver, loaded into the camera and exposed while still wet, hence the name "wet plate."

Once the exposure is made, the plate is moved back into the darkroom to be developed. The photo is then fixed, dried, varnished and voila -- a notably unhurried photo.  For Andrade, each session lasts between 45 minutes to two hours, depending on the number of subjects.

"It's taken me a long time to get to the point where I feel extremely confident," he says.  

Roughly two years ago, he started RELIC in his garage, hosting shooting sessions there, and then stumbled upon his studio at 3815 Kalamath St.

He calls his process the "slow selfie," explaining, "It's how people can best relate with it. It's instant in a way, but it does take some time before the image appears before your eyes."

Andrade's inspiration for overseas work was photographing the devastation of 9/11.Crafts coming together

The photographer has documented couples' engagements, family portraits and creatives ranging from musicians to comedians in their natural habitats. He also put together a series featuring Denver's craft beer culture, covering local brewers including Former Future Brewing CompanyCerebral Brewing and others using the old-fashioned technology. "I describe it as the melding of two crafts," Andrade says.

"We started seeing the photos he was doing of other brewers in town and loved what he was doing. We reached out to him in order to be involved in the brewer series," says Sean Buchan, owner and head brewer at Cerebral. "We were really surprised with how hands-on and time-intensive it was for him. He captured the craft brewing industry by spending time with each brewery and celebrating what was unique about each one."

The beer images were hung at Wynkoop Brewing Company in LoDo. Other images of his can be found at RELIC studio, as well as craft fairs such as the Horseshoe Market and Denver Flea. Andrade calls the process "humbling," since every session behind the camera can be different.

He says his experiences both abroad and now, as he preserves moments of history, have taught him the power of a still image.

"In a world that often feels like everything's instant, breathing a moment in can be so simple and profound," Andrade explains. "That was always my draw to photography and still is."

Read more articles by Gigi Sukin.

Gigi Sukin is a Denver-based writer-editor. She currently works as an editor at ColoradoBiz and previously worked as an editorial intern at 5280.
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