Mumm Napa: Sierra Snapshots and Sparkling Wine

Eye modern photos created by the "wet-plate collodion process" at the Rutherford winery.

Ben Nixon

IT'S OFTEN SAID... that one can determine the era of a photograph, and perhaps even the decade or specific year, by the hairstyles depicted. Anyone who was a teenager in the 1980s or '90s knows this to all too true, for better or worse, as does anyone who was ever photographed in all of their charming adolescent finery. But a century before the 1980s, thereabouts, you didn't need hairstyles or fashion to signify the snapshot's time-specific pedigree; the photo's distinct process and appearance revealed its age. If you see a photo that's collodion, you know you're likely looking at a picture from the second half of the 1800s or early 20th century. This was the popular process that jostled with daguerreotypes in the popular opinion of a photo-mad public (collodion followed daguerreotype and tintypes followed collodion). But many contemporary art lovers are still mad for the haunting and elegant collodion process, one that is still practiced by a few practiced hands (and eyes) nowadays. Photographer Ben Nixon is an acclaimed artist in this realm, and looking at a picture snapped by Mr. Nixon can send you scratching your noggin: Is it 1890 you're staring at or March 2015? If you want to see these wet-plate collodion gems, make for a whole exhibit by Mr. Nixon at...

MUMM NAPA... through Sunday, Nov. 8. "Timeless California & The Sierras" features a lot of Golden State nature as interpreted by the modern-meets-yesteryear artist. He searches out "non-iconic terrain" for his works, so you may be hard-pressed to guess exactly where a particular tree or hillside is located (and the elegantly old-fashioned process, with its occasional streak and unexpected hue, can deepen the mystery). Want to sip some Mumm-lovely sparkling wine and attend the opening reception? The public is invited. Be at the Rutherford winery on Saturday, Aug. 29. It's in the early evening, a time of day that should add more of an esoteric note to the nicely enigmatic photographs, works of art that seem to exist, easily and simultaneously, in a few eras. Most of all they're nicely situated in the Golden State, the place they pay passionate homage. And what a place, too; certainly some of Mr. Nixon's natural-world subjects stood much as they do today back in 1867, the very time when photo bugs were going mad for this still fresh wet-plate collodion process.

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