Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women managed to breathe new life into Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel, which is especially impressive because the March sisters’ story is one of the most familiar in the world, having been regularly made into TV series and plays, musicals and other movies since its 1860s publication. Still, even though Gerwig’s version proves that Alcott’s work remains relevant for modern audiences, it doesn’t forget either that it’s set in a time and place more than a century past.
A series of 19th century-style portraits, showing the film’s cast sitting for period-appropriate photographs in their period-appropriate costumes, are a good reminder of this. Posted by the movie’s Twitter account, each post includes one of the actors’ portraits and photographer Wilson Webb providing some background on the technology and technique used to create the images.
Webb explains that the portraits were made during spare moments while filming and were staged on the “March home interior set.” Beneath photos of Emma Watson and Eliza Scanlen, we’re told that the photos use “the collodion process” (or “tin type or wet plate photography”) invented “around 1851,” a couple of decades before Little Women’s publication.
The process requires photos to be taken “while the tin or plate is wet with light sensitive chemicals and exposed before the plate dries.” It also uses a flash of such high wattage that “you could feel and smell the heat of the light” and creates images that would have fallen out of focus if the actors didn’t sit “very still.”
As cool as all of this is, it’s worth mentioning that the appeal of these photographs extends far beyond the obvious. Even if you have no interest whatsoever in Little Women or 19th century photography, there’s no arguing with the value of this project capturing Bob Odenkirk and his flowing sideburns for posterity, after all.
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