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Retouching of wet plate collodion negative

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A month ago I was in George Eastman House in Rochester on a workshop of glass negative retouching. I made a personal resolution to do a pilgrimage to GEH once a year, as it’s was very inspiring experience to learn from fantastic mentors, Mark Osterman and Nick Brandreth . Furthermore at these workshops you are invited in the GEH’s collection where examples from history of photography are presented.

This week I hadn’t had any commercial work so finally I found time to try my new tools. At the workshop we all received a retouching kit with several brushes, graphic pencil, sand paper, several varnishes, powders, razor blade, magnifying loupe, collodion glass negatives to be retouched and a folder with read on the subject. So neat! GEH’s workshops are so well organised!

Retouching basically means drawing and I do not know how to draw or better I have still much to learn about drawing. Nevertheless I’m satisfied with the results presented in the video. Of course, retouching of eyes is the most difficult thing, but my clumsy retouching is what makes the image scary. If you look at the albumen print from a retouched negative, you would never guessed that it’s retouched, if you would not see it doing and if you were not an expert in retouching. I trust my wife’s opinion, she is very cruel in her judgement toward my work and she said it’s OK. And her opinion with all due respecte overrates Mark Osterman’s opinion, which I know it’ll be critical. I totally follow his teaching, but on the aesthetic point of view we often respectfully disagree. I love his work, perfect in any view, but you see my character is different. I’m not a tidy person, I don’t find my plates messy. I could make them totally technically perfect, but I welcome some stains on corners of my plates. Like my sink, it’s not dirty! It simply isn’t! Yes it does has many silver stains and I will not clean them with aggressive chemicals, because that would just be Sisyphus’s work! So under topshit doctrine, cleaning a sink basically means irresponsible pollution of environment and consequently burning in hell! Ha!!!

Where was I?
I learned a lot at this workshop. Like I’ve down hundreds of salt prints already, but observing Mark making salt prints I’ve learned many small tricks. One of it is the following. For sensitising salt paper we usually use cotton ball and then we trow it away. What Mark does is after senzibilisation he squeezes the remaining silver nitrate into a jar and then recover this polluted silver. How brilliant is that?! Just think how much silver nitrate is thrown away with filtering, sensitising and so on? In a month time with this practice I saved almost one decilitre of silver nitrate! I can’t write all the tips & tricks I’ve learned from Mark, since that would be more suitable for a book, then a blog :-)

Let me finish this blogpost with a very comforting information that if with retouching you screw up the negative, you can undo it! For instance. If you add too much graphite on your negative, you can wipe it away with fine powder of a cuttle fish. That’s the white powder I was using in the video. With it you can remove unwanted retouching. You can also do the more drastic measure like removing whole varnish from the negative and with it the mistake you’ve made. Remember, the retouching is not happening on the collodion, but on the varnish.

That’s the main difference between dry silver-gelatine negatives and collodion negatives. Silver-gelatine negative can be scratched into emulsion whereas collodion has very very thin layer of silver (that’s what it makes it the sharpest photography medium ever) and if you would try to scratch silver from collodion negative, you would scratch it right trough.

So, Mark gave me also information on collodion-chloride paper and when I was at home, I try it, but I haven’t dry the paper sufficiently and the collodion-chloride paper got stuck on the collodion negative. I basically ruin it, the negative can not be used anymore. Then I took alcohol, diluted it to 85% and start washing the negative in the alcohol. The varnish dissolved and with it also collodion-chloride emulsion. This is not the work for light hearted one, because you can easily ruin the negative, especially if the collodion used for the negative was old. Old collodion is fragile and lost it’s flexibility and therefor it’s very fragile. There was a small chance that Mark was using very old collodion, so I washed the varnish away and revarnished the plate again. Now I can retouch it again.

The two photographs that I’ve made are available for purchase on Ebay. I added also the third one, but this one is from unretouched negative. I made it later then the video, my wife says that it’s my best photograph and so it is. You don’t want to argue with my wife, OK? Trust me on this one!!!

Please follow the link bellow. I’m blogging for already nine years, I’ve wrote more then 1000 blog posts and I’m receiving emails to publish more, make more videos. I would love to, that would be my dream job, but as a professional photographer, I need to make a living and support my family first. That said, if you would consider to give me a tip for the videos I make and the information I share, it would be most appreciated. You can tip me via Paypal and my paypal account is borutpeterlin@gmail.com
Thank you.

Written by Borut Peterlin

14 May, 2015 at 10:01

A challenging drive with Land Rover Series III, old-timer from 1972

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Yesterday I wanted to test my dark-box and my intention was to go to a beautiful pine tree that was cut in half by a lightning. It’s difficult to get there and yesterday was too muddy to reach that corner of the forrest. I know, I need a winch or even hi-lift jack would be enough to get me through the mud on the side road.

Now I had to take the dangerous muddy hill, I wanted to avoid, but I must drive it in reverse! That was scary, because it was too muddy for brakes, so I had to go with low range engine braking, only that way car was still steerable. At 5:44 you see the rock that was sticking out, I had to steer around that rock. To be honest, I was sure that I’m going to hit that rock, but I was lucky.

Anyway my dark box is working, but I’m not yet satisfied with it. I’ll make it lighter, that’s for sure. Yesterday me and my wife, we had 10th anniversary of our marriage, but we both forgot about it. Then it was on Facebook a reminder that we had an anniversary. So I’ve test the dark-box and made a portrait of us.

Written by Borut Peterlin

1 May, 2015 at 08:31

Posted in land rover

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From the most famous photography exhibition in the world The Family of Men exhibition

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The past week I was in Luxembourg where I was a guest of European Month of Photography – EMOP. I was nominated together with Marcell Esterházy, Tatiana Lecomte, Andreas Muehe, Lina Scheyniusfor for Arendt Award for Photography. The winner of the award of 5000 EUR was Tatiana Lecomte.

I’ve seen some pretty amazing works of art, exhibitions, artists, curators and collectors. Very inspiring, can’t wait to meet most of them in Arles, the most important photography festival in Europe, and present my new work.

We visited also probably the most famous photography exhibition of all times, The Family of Men, curated by Edward Steichen. I loved it totally and I’ve photographed as much as I could so I could share it on my blog. It’s amazing how Steichen juxtaposed photographs, isn’t?

Wikipedia: The Family of Man was an ambitious photography exhibition curated by Edward Steichen, the director of the Museum of Modern Art’s (MOMA) Department of Photography. It was first shown in 1955 from January 24 to May 8 at the New York MOMA. Steichen’s international collection of images, included his focused tour of 11 European countries including France, Switzerland, Austria and Germany. In total, Steichen procured 300 images from European photographers which were first organized into the Post-War European Photography exhibition on display at the Museum of Modern Art in 1953. Due to the incorporation of this body of work into the 1955 The Family of Man exhibition, Post-War European Photography is thought of as a preview to The History of Man.

After its initial showing at The Museum of Modern Art in 1955, the exhibition toured the world for eight years, making stops in thirty-seven countries on six continents. More than 9 million people viewed the exhibit. The physical collection is archived and displayed at Clervaux Castle in Luxembourg (Edward Steichen’s home country; he was born there in 1879 in Bivange). It was first presented there in 1994 after restoration of the prints. In 2003 the Family of Man photographic collection was added to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in recognition of its historical value.

Written by Borut Peterlin

28 April, 2015 at 00:37

At 5am in Venice

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Few weeks ago I had a job in Venice and I couldn’t resist not to do some 5am photography. 5am is one of my favourite projects. The basic concept is to be a part of the day when night had finish already and the day haven’t started yet.

Sometime around 5am there exists a subtle moment when day chases its tail. Laborers are off to work; party-goers are finding their way home.

In the wee hours, ambiguity rages between night and day, light and dark, predator and prey, mind and instinct, life and death. This surreal relationship between contrasts seems to linger in what is just the blink of an eye.

In one sentence, it’s a love affair with light. I love it, being awake before everybody and having an eternity just for myself. I walk and observe without any rush, without any obligations and without any expectations whatsoever. It’s my walking meditation channeled trough photography.

As I’ve mentioned in the video I’ve started the project in Fabrica in year 2000, because after Oliviero Toscani left, I could not get a permission to go out and do photography. My kind of photography! You know, the kind of photography that does not sound sane in an application form and on top of that it does not have a deadline or a goal to achieve? I remember very clearly when a senior staff was explaining me that I should sketch how will my photographs look like, before I take a camera in my hands. I explaining him that if I would do so, I would make an image that is made with my mind and my mind is just recycling concepts and in this way I can not come up with nothing original. You can imagine the face of the temporary head of the department…

Anyhow, in the video above is presented a book dummy that I’ve created in 2008. After that I was doing my 5am routine wherever I traveled and bellow there are few recent images from Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, USA, Czech Republic and of course Venice, Italy.

The project will be finished in a book, I’m quite certain about it. You might remember that in my post from Les Recontres Arles festival I’ve mentioned that Dewi Lewis remembered me for some crazy project of mine? In one sentence I’ve met Mr. Lewis more then ten years ago at Frankfurt Book Fair and after all those years he still remembered me and one of my crazy projects. He remembered my 5am project! How amazing is that?!?

To repeat fast, Dewi Lewis is one of the most important photography book publishers in the world and he was a publisher of Martin Parr (before Faidon), William Klein, Erwin Olaf, to name just few and he remembered my 5am project ten years later when we’ve met in Arles. Of course I will make new 5am book dummy and send it to him.

If you will be in Vienna Photo Book Festival I will be there also with my photo books. That said, the book isn’t published yet, so I can’t sell you one, but someday I will.

Bellow are images that I’ve made in Venice. This is my selection from couple of mornings and only few images will actually end in a book. At the bottom there is a slideshow I’ve made years ago with music of Daniel Wehr. Daniel was a fellow student in Fabrica.it in year 2000 and he made this music for my 5am project. He even walked with me one 5am morning, recording sound, but he didn’t like the sound of camera shutter, so next day I got up even sooner at 4am :-)

Written by Borut Peterlin

6 April, 2015 at 11:58

Vantage point in photography / Wet Plate Collodion & Salt Print Process

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Salt print toned with gold, format 10x12" (25x30cm).

Salt print toned with gold, format 10×12″ (25x30cm).

In this video I’m presenting my creative process how am I approaching a motif conceptually and also physically. Wet plate collodion is so slow process that an hour or two of thinking is nothing in comparison how much it takes to make one photograph.

Before I start making an image I always play a devil’s lawyer with myself asking myself annoying questions; Why are you photographing that? Who have done that before you? Are you adding something new and fresh? What would Ansel, Edward, Josef, Sally, Mark & France and others would say if (when) they will look at it? Is it worth it? Don’t you have something better to do?

If I successfully manage to defend a concept, only then I start with preparations for the shoot. And this was the case also with this tree trunk. I’m running every day trough this forrest and I have a long list of trees, valleys and few roots that I need to photograph.

In the video I haven’t talked about technical details, although I did left few educational tips. Like pouring collodion. Please take a look three small details. First when I pour collodion, I tend to make a perfect circle in the middle. That means my plate is levelled and I can pour a lot of collodion on the plate. Then I slowly, very slowly move collodion from edge to edge and on the end I slowly pouring collodion off. Yes, you got it, the key word is do it slowly, no need to hurry. This is the speed I usually do it indoor. Outdoor it’s usually drying faster, but that day was pretty cold and my collodion for negatives has more alcohol solvent then ether solvent ratio, because alcohol opens collodion pores and allow more silver to bind, causing denser negatives. That’s just the opposite that you want for ambrotypes.

Nevertheless the negative that I’ve got was very thin and almost an ambrotype. I’ve done everything correctly, but the day was cloudy and in the forrest there was very diffused light. I’ve exposed the plate correctly, meaning that my blacks didn’t had any information, but although I developed for three minutes, the negative was still very thin, almost ambrotype like. This is what Mark Osterman calls a foundation negative.

The mistake photographers often do is that they add another one or two exposure values and when they develop a plate, the negative looks much better on the first glance. Whites are dense, middle tones are denser, but blacks are gone! If you overexpose a negative, blacks are not empty, but they have information, meaning that blacks aren’t black anymore but they are dark grey! Now, if your blacks aren’t black, you can’t redevelop! Let me explain why.

Redeveloping is a process that is done at home and it’s done after fixing. Let me describe the process in plain language. When you develop a wet plate collodion negative you get three things. Glass plate, collodion layer (a binder) and you have a thin layer of silver on top. This silver is not mixed with collodion, it’s suspended on top of the plate. That is the condition that you can treat the silver with iodine, making it sensitive to light once again and then you apply developer containing fresh silver that will be bound on the foundation silver that is already bounded with collodion. What happens now? Highlights that have a lot of silver in the foundation negative will attract much more silver then middle tones that have less silver then highlights. Blacks do not have any silver and therefore will not attract no additional silver. Redeveloping process is building silver layers and that means that you are gaining contrast and density of a negative. This redeveloping process can be done for very long time and you can build a bullet-proof density of a negative.

And that is what I was after! All my wet plate collodion negatives have a bullet-proof densities. It took me literally two hours of redeveloping that I gained the sort of density I wanted. Usually it takes between 10-30 minutes, but this is an exceptional case. The foundation negative was very thin, so it catches only little silver from the redeveloping and the second reason was that I wanted to make this right, so I was adding very little silver and slowly and gradually building up the contrast. If you do it too fast, you may get pinholes in the negative. Second version of this negative I’ve done it faster and it took me only half an hour.

The end result, presented here, is a salt print toned with gold. Salt Print process was invented by Henry Fox Talbot in year 1833 and publicly announced in 1839. In principle it’s very simple process, but if you want to make it right it’s very challenging indeed. Salt print process is the printing process with huge tonal scale. Correct me if I’m wrong but only carbon printing process has a wider tonal scale. And this wast tonality range is the cause that the process demands a negative that could match the same tonality range. By my humble opinion wet plate collodion negative is far far the best negative for print-out-processes (POP). Digital negative simply can not match the density necessary for full tonality spectrum. Simply, a thick layer of silver has much better quality in blocking light then a layer of inkjet dye. Salt print process is like a train, you can lean as much as you can toward left or right, the train will go where the tracks are laid. And the salt print process is the same, it will be as good as the negative is.

Anyhow here is my salt print and you be the judge of my vantage points on the photography, either is that conceptually, aesthetically or technologically.

The print and the ambrotype is for sale, please email me on borut@borutpeterlin.com for more details. Thank you for your attention!

Topshit Photo Safari, March 2015

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Dear friends from the world of digital,
I had 40th birthday last November and my intention was to organise a photo expedition with an oldtimer Land Rover 109, from year 1972, but the events went into different direction. For the last two months my car was broken and it was standing in my courtyard and since local mechanic, my neighbour didn’t bother to come and see, two Land Rover owners Miha Kaiser and Aleš Zorc came from Ljubljana and fixed the distributor and ignition tuning. Immediately I’ve decided that the time is right to organise a photo safari, so I’ve invited few friend and we’ve met on Saturday morning. We started at 9am and finished at 10pm in darkroom developing films. Please read captions to get more information.

But there is more then just celebrating my birthday. Some of you know that in 2001 I’ve founded Fotopub, a festival of documentary photography and I was running it for seven years. My intention is to organise another festival of photography, a festival of analog photography. The Analog Topshit Photography Festival! But since I’m very aware that this is a huge thing and I can not pull it off by myself, I want to take small gradual steps, by organising small events like workshops, talks, exhibitions, portrait sessions and so on. In one year the concept, the workflow, the organisation and the reputation should be set to lunch a real festival of analogue photography. As for now, please mark yourself the last week of July, from Wednesday 28th to Saturday 1st of August 2015. More information will follow.

Music in the video by Vasko Atanasovski Trio.

Analog manipulation of photography by Borut Peterlin

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Excellent news, I’m going to Rochester, USA, again, to make a pilgrimage to George Eastman House and have a workshop with none other then Mark Osterman! This time I will learn from the master how to retouch glass negatives. Concerning expenses, the time in not right, but I just have to go to this workshop, because I was always interested in alternating a photograph by hand. Ironically I’ve completely stopped with my photomontages when I did digital photography, although I master Photoshop just as well. Photoshop, Instagram, Photomatix and other digital effects are so generic I don’t like it at all. I can’t explain why I love analog manipulation so much. I really can’t, I know it’s basically the same as digital manipulation, but my feelings are very different.

I’ve looked back 23 years and made a collection of my analog manipulated images. I’ve forgot to mention in the video the project The Tales of Gorjanci Hills, published by Založba Goga ten years ago.

Ebay auction of my print starting from 0.99$

Ebay auction of my print starting from 0.99$

So you understand, I have to go to Rochester for this workshop, I have no choice. The only problem is money, of course. As a professional artist, living in Slovenia, the country where art market does not exist, I’m forced for guerrilla sale tactics. I know nobody is selling their art prints on ebay as an auction from 0,99$, but I’ve had some great success, so I decided to resort myself again to this tactic.

Hey, if I started with 23 year old photographs, let me tell you about the dream I had in my teenage years! All I wanted is to make a living out of photography and the only people I knew at the time that were making a living out of photography were people who had a printing lab and making portraits for ID cards. And believe it or not, that was my dream at the time, to work in a printing lab and do ID portraits! And look at me now, I have no fear of putting a print of mine on ebay as an auction from 0,99$ and with it (partly) finance the trip to the workshop at Rochester!

The auction will be for just three days and then perhaps I will put a new print on auction.

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