Please tell us about yourself.
I am a entrepreneur that found the historic wet plate collodion process back in 2012 and have been chasing it ever since. I was 44 years old and never had a creative outlet in my life until then. I have created over 3400 plates in the past 7 years and I truly feel this is what I was always meant to do.
How did you come to photography?
I saw a wet plate online and I was immediately intrigued by the imagery that was possible with this historic process from 1848. I was never a photographer, in fact, did not own a personal camera at that time, so this was all very new to me, I am completely self-taught in the process.
Why do you create?
I create to capture history, to make objects that will be here for hundreds of years from now. Wet plates are completely archival and will outlast most all other photographic processes. The images that I capture are made out of pure silver on glass. It is important that we do not always think of history from the past, we are making history here each and every day. I think my wet plates of Greta this week proves that notion. Who are we? How do we want to be remembered? All important questions.
Please tell us about Standing For Us All.
I was given an opportunity to spend 20 minutes with the very fabulous Greta Thurberg. I had found out that she was going to spend time with my friends from Standing Rock. She did not have enough time in her schedule to visit my natural light wet plate studio in Bismarck, so I said “give me 15 minutes” and I will bring my camera, darkroom and chemicals to her. My friends at Standing Rock made this happen for me and I am forever grateful to them. I have been capturing for over 5 years my Native American series, and the relationships that I have made and the wonderful people that have been brought into my life by this process has been immense.
Please tell us about the Northern Plains Native Americans: A Modern Wet Plate Perspective.
It is my goal to capture 1000 Native Americans in the historic wet plate collodion process. I am at plate 350 so far and have about another 12 years to fulfill this dream. I am making 4 volumes of books over the 1000 plates and the first book was just released this spring.
How does the process of making a wet plate add to the photographic experience?
What is very special about wet plate is the long exposures. Your iphone camera will capture an image in about 1/60th of a second. In my studio I am experiencing 10 seconds of exposure so it takes me 600 times long to make a picture in the historic process than using modern digital photography. In my studio a proper wet plate can take me an hour to compose and shoot. If you think about this romantically, I am not making snapshots of my subjects, but 10 second movies, still life movies. All the heart beats, a couple shallow breaths, a blink or two, it is all captured there on the plate, forever.
Who has had an influence on your creative process?
I have always had ideas and thoughts.I have a large imagination.I think it goes back to my childhood when I would play “Dungeons and Dragons” for days on end. In playing this game, it is all imaginative and you get very good and thinking about scenarios and different scenes in your head. Now that I have found this creative outlet, the work just seems to be pouring out of me. I have too many ideas and they tend to haunt me at times. I am just afraid, now being 50 years old, I simply do not have enough time to do everything that I want to do in this process, but I sure am trying.
Please tell us about an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time.
Oscar Rejlander Photo, The Two Ways of Life 1857. This image is actually a composite of multiple images that he stitched together using historic contact print methods, it is amazing in its scope and execution.
What image of yours would you say taught you an important lesson?
Liberty Trudges Through Injustice I feel is my most successful collaboration piece.
Everything seemed to come together perfectly that day and with all the technical issues and all the things that could have gone wrong, it just all went very right for me and my team of collaborators. This is what is possible when people come together to create art, for no other reason than to create together. This production had a $0.00 budget.
Is the Photographic community important to you?
Yes, I have met so many very fabulous people since I have entered this world of photography. In fact, I run a Facebook group called “Friends of Frederick Scott Archer”, where we share out work together and give each other support. At best estimates, there are less than 1000 of us on the planet that religiously and continuously practice this process at any given time. As you can imagine, many people come and go, but there is a core group of us that this is what we do. It is very rewarding.
This year in May I traveled to Luxembourg to participate in the European Collodion Weekend gathering where nearly 50 wet plate artists from around the world gather. It was one of the most exciting weekends of my life to spend it with my friends.
What makes a good day for you creatively speaking?
My process is so very difficult and fickle at times. What I always says is, if we can get one good plate a day that we are happy with or proud of, we should not ask for anything more.
What have you found is essential in the making of your work?
Compassion and caring, it all starts with the sitter, If you can build that relationship. Many times these are complete strangers, you can earn their trust and that trust makes itself evident in the work that you create together.
Also collaboration, I always ask my sitters what they think or any ideas they have, I want them to be involved, I want them to be invested in the image as I am, that is how you get a strong image. Working together. Wet plating is a dance between the photographer and the sitter. I can do the most amazing camera work, but without the sitter doing their part, you will never be successful. So we must work together, we must dance together to get that image.
Whats on the horizon?
Like my entire wet plate career, I have no idea how I have gotten to this point in fact. It is all very unexpected. I was just creating for myself the first couple of years, I had no idea anyone would be interested in what I was doing and I surely did not understand the impact my work can have on the rest of the world. I am booked out about 7 months for my Friday sessions. I will just continue to make plates that excite me and fill that need.
My life’s work is my Native American series and I will not rest until I get that achieved.
To learn more about the work of Shane Balkowitsch please visit his site at Shane Balkowitsch.