Soldier Portraits: Contemporary Wet Plate Collodion Photographs by Ellen Susan

Jepson Center April 10 - July 25, 2010

Exhibition Closed July 2010

Over the past several years, photographer Ellen Susan has been employing the 150-year-old collodion wet plate photographic process to create compelling portraits of active-duty members of the United States Army, many of them from the 3rd Infantry Division. This complex and rarely used photographic technique, which enjoyed great popularity during the Civil War era, creates timeless images of today’s servicemen and women. Susan’s collodion photographs effectively personalize the image of the soldier, providing a counterpoint to the largely anonymous representations of soldiers that the artist experienced in newspapers and on television. In Susan’s words, “I wanted to produce physically enduring, visually and emotionally arresting images of people who are being sent repeatedly into a war zone.”

Ellen Susan has been living and working in Savannah since October of 2006. Her use of the time-honored wet plate process recently earned her a unique commission with the Robert Redford film shot in Savannah, The Conspirator. Susan created wet plate photographic reproductions of historical images taken by Alexander Gardner, which depicted the hanging of those accused in the plot to assassinate President Lincoln.

The artist holds a BFA from the Massachusetts College of Art and an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. She has exhibited with the New Orleans Photo Alliance, the Blue Sky Gallery in Portland, Oregon, the Photographic Resource Center in Boston, and various other organizations. Her soldier series has been enthusiastically received in group shows in San Francisco and New York, and throughout the state of Georgia at sites including the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, the Georgia Southern University Gallery, and the Georgia College and State University Museum.

Workshop: Portrait Photography and Historic Photographic Processes*
April 10, 17, and 24, 1-4 pm
Open to both teens and adults (ages 16 and older), this series includes  two workshop sessions instructed by a professional photographer working with historic processes as well as a visit to Ellen Susan’s studio. Registration required; call 912.790.8823.

Members’ Reception
April 15, 6 pm
Free to members and with museum admission

Military Family Day
April 25, 2-5 pm
Military families and audiences of all ages are invited to participate in this family event highlighting the Soldier Portraits exhibition. The event includes op ­portunities to meet artists Ellen Susan (2-4 pm) and Sarah Kankiewicz-Arkins, and view historic ambrotypes provided by collector and Ft. McAllister historical interpreter, Talley Kirkland. Children and families can participate in taking portrait photographs and experimenting with sun prints and other processes. At 3 pm, the museum will present a performance by the Parris Island Marine Brass Band in the Neises Auditorium.

“The Soldier and the Image: A Photographic History”*
April 29, 6pm

This panel discussion includes short presentations by four speakers who will explore the relationship between the art of photography and the depiction of soldiers throughout history. The program will provide background and historical context related to the methods employed by some of the earliest practitioners of photography in America to the contemporary soldier portraits by Ellen Susan. Speakers include artist Ellen Susan, gallerist and collector Kim Iocovozzi, historical interpreter and collector Talley Kirkland, and Craig Stevens- photographer and professor at the Savannah College of Art and Design.

These programs are free and open to the public, thanks to project funding provided by the City of Savannah.


Ellen Susan, 1LT Jeffrey Des Jarlais, 2007, Ambrotype, 6 x 6 inches, Courtesy of the artist.