You think shooting on film is hip?
January 19, 2018 4:43 AM   Subscribe

These are amazing. Thank you.
posted by Morpeth at 5:00 AM on January 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

posted by spitbull at 6:25 AM on January 19, 2018

Beautiful. I'm glad that this art has been preserved and I hope it continues to be passed down.
posted by Fizz at 6:33 AM on January 19, 2018

This is fascinating, thanks for posting this!
posted by carter at 7:07 AM on January 19, 2018

Wonderful work, some of those shots evoke Julia Margaret Cameron, especially this one. I hope to try this at some point; I took a large format photography class last summer and totally fell in love with the process but what he's doing is quite a few levels beyond since I was mostly just shooting 4"x5" cameras and using modern Ilford high-speed film.

Shooting an 8"x10" image using an emulsion like collodion that has a light sensitivity of something like 0.5 means that you need an insane amount of light to be able to stop the aperture down far enough to get a usable depth of field. Or you need to expose the thing for a really long time which is hard to do with portraits. Either way, it's hard as hell to get a usable image.
posted by octothorpe at 7:16 AM on January 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

These are phenomenal.
posted by rtha at 7:21 AM on January 19, 2018

I was struck by the photographer's discussion of the need for UV light and how modern building glass generally blocks UV. Apparently wet plate emulsions are sensitive pretty much entirely to UV and barely at all to visible light. (See this paper, which has AgBr sensitive from 200nm to 300nm, maybe 400nm.) That must account for part of why wet plate photographs look so interesting and different.

You can get a similar effect if you convert a photograph from color to black and white using only the blue channel. It looks like weird lighting, very stark. These wet plates have a gentler look but it's the same idea.
posted by Nelson at 7:33 AM on January 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

The technical imperfections give them a lot of character, but also remind you how amazing Edward Curtis was with his consistency of craftsmanship. This is a great project.
posted by starman at 7:47 AM on January 19, 2018

Wait, what? Wait, whaaat?! Wait, whaaaaaat!?

These pictures are all amazing but I would love to know more about these three.
posted by chavenet at 7:51 AM on January 19, 2018

The photographs are lovely. I will say I feel like some more dialogue regarding the context of them would be helpful. He is, after are replicating the studio photography of white photographers who lensed Natives in the 1800s, and that raises several issues:

Firstly, those photographers notoriously misrepresented their subjects in order to fulfill non-Native stereotypes about Natives. I would love to know how this photographer is avoiding the same trap.

Secondly, I write a lot about the American West, and about art that represents the American West, and I keep bumping into the issue that this is one of the few places where we regularly see representations of the Native experience.

Even when done respectfully, it tends to render the Native experience something that only happened in the past, and in the context of their encounters with Whites. I live very close to a Native bookstore, and when I first went in I was struck by how little material there was on the American West, but they I realized, oh, wait, that was, like, 60 years in an unbroken history that is millennia long.

White folks focus on it because it's our foundational myth, it's one of the essential stories about the creation of America. But it's a blip in Native history, and, even in the context of Native resistance, it's just a few years out of 400-some-off years they have been resisting colonization.

So I guess what concerns me is that this is a vintage technology and is mostly being used in these examples to recreate a vintage style of studio photography, and this risks making contemporary subjects look like artifacts from bygone era, which is one of the more unpleasant White myths about Natives -- that they are creatures of the past, which erases their modern experience.

Anyway, I would love to read how these concerns are being addressed by the artist, and read some Native responses to the work.
posted by maxsparber at 7:58 AM on January 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

Balkowitsch is pretty cool, he turns up in groups I follow and is involved in the State Historical Society -- here's a good story on him and his process reproducing a historical photo.
posted by AzraelBrown at 9:07 AM on January 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

These are great. One of my more recent hobbies has been collecting cabinet cards. I've been learning a lot about the process of making them and of dating them. One of the things I like about collecting cabinet cards and CDVs is that the process often dates the image. Are the edges beveled? The sides scalloped? Is it back stamped with a tax stamp? Often you can get down to within 5 years, sometimes as fine grained as the actual day.

It looks like this guy's process was a precursor to what I collect, but this is still awesome to me. If I had a thousand lives to live I would spend one of them doing what he is doing.

I get a weird fission when looking at old images, and I have been trying to articulate why lately. There's something about looking at people from over 100 years ago, of holding a tangible object, and knowing that may be all that is left of that whole person's life. I sometimes feel a pang of regret that these lives have been lost to time and reduced to nothing more than a once loved photo of a once loved person now for sale in an antique shop.

I have a project I am working on in regards to these photos, and my partner loves doing the ancestry research on the few images where we are actually able to identify the subject. Sometimes we've been able to write full narratives filled with contemporary details from primary and secondary resources. We have a huge reprint of one of my favorite images on our living room wall, of a woman named Fannie Fenn. I often treat her like I treat real people. I tell her to have a good day, say hello, make jokes, "Gonna just hang around today?" We were able to find out who she married, what her children did, and even how one of her grandkids made it to my home town and died here tragically.

But the majority of images have no story. They may not even list a town or the photographer. They are a moment in time that someone felt was significant enough to want to preserve.

I am closing in on a thousand images, and while I pretty much don't collect anything older than CDVs, I still have a lot of others, as they were often purchased in lots. I am learning more all the time, and I love this post.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:12 AM on January 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

These are absolutely gorgeous.

And the photographer side of me is also reeling in horror. I barely have the patience for doing the relatively easy landscape and long exposure work I've been doing, and even though I'm using some similar techniques (manual shutter control by simply blocking the lens, for example) and a lot of long exposure work relies heavily on guessing and trying to get close enough, and even with a nice compact mirrorless camera this is still a ton of work and patience, hauling things around and a lot of hiking...

...the thought of doing it in the field while handling and coating wet plates with a giant box camera is enough to give me a mild case of the screaming phantods. Oh hell no, I do not have time for that.

The thought of doing wet plate portraiture these days is just a wee bit mad. I'm hoping he has a bunch of really nice quartz studio lights and some monster strobes.
posted by loquacious at 12:13 PM on January 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

« Older On the way in I collect my eleventh cup of tea of...   |   Like a bridge over troubled water Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments