In the virtual archive of the National Library I find a picture of my great-grandmother in her wedding dress and I understand that, somehow, a part of me was also there. Arturo Talavera arrives from Mexico to help me develop wet plate collodion pictures, an old photographic process also used by Courret in his studio. We work with natural light, old cameras and chemicals we ourselves mix. After four days, not a single picture has come out. Arturo, the expert, performs tests to see if the problem is in the camera, in the collodion that is not ripe or is expired, in the silver nitrate or the fixative that we changed for cyanide. Or maybe it is the darkroom that lets in some light. We moved the darkroom to a more protected area and changed all the chemicals once more to rule each one out. It seems that the silver nitrate, contaminated with dust particles, is causing the errors. We boil it and place it back again to solve the problem.
We work for fifteen days and the experience brings the evolution of photography to my mind. While I breathe under the focusing cloth that I drape over my head to see the inverted image through the camera lens, I start to better understand photography. Time and light, the image as true as that of a mirror. One hundred and fifty years have reduced exposure times, and our patience. History now has different parameters. After several tries, the images finally start to appear. All the effort gives each photo a special value. I keep them all, flawed or not, since mistakes are part of the project. I clean the glass plates, pour the collodion, sensitize the emulsion, bring into frame, expose, measure the time and develop. Today, three months after completing the project, the ambrotypes, tintypes and negatives take me back, with their magical voices, to those December days.I wonder what Courret would think if he came back to life and saw what has become of his studio. He would stand on the balcony and be surprised at the way his street, the Jirón de la Unión looks, so different, bustling, with lights and people of an informal Lima unknown to him. I think he'd run for his camera, as I did many times during those two weeks.