TOPSHIT PHOTOGRAPHY blog

borut peterlin, slovenia, ambrotype, Portrait photography, Wet Plate Collodion, Analog Film photography

Archive for the ‘analog photography’ Category

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.

Book dummy The Great Depression by Borut Peterlin

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Huh, I’m really happy today. I’ve shipped my book to The European Publishers Award for Photography . This is one of the most important photography awards in Europe and I’ve sent my dummy books before, but this time I’m really happy, because I know I’m sending something I truly believe in and furthermore I know I can not make it better. I, personally, did my best in making this book. I was contemplating a lot and I’ve made several versions, changing design, changing format, printing materials, rhythm of the images in the book, number of pages, select out certain images that I really love and so on. Now I feel very content with it. I can not make it better. I am not saying it can’t be done better, but I can not do it better. You may compare this version of the book with the version I’ve brought to Arles Festival and you will notice the difference.

This project The Great Depression was also shortlisted for European Month of Photography Arendt Award! It’s huge honour to be short-listed among few hundred photographers that exhibited in different capitals of Europe. The short list of only five photographers was chosen by the jury of curators and it’s not the kind of competition that you can apply to. I will be exhibiting in the exhibition space of Arendt & Medernach’s headquarters in Luxembourg from 22 April 2015 onwards.

Let me take the opportunity to announce few more news. A week ago this blog reached 500 followers on wordpress.com platform and this week is already 535 and if I count several thousands followers on Twitter and Facebook, it’s huge crowd, so I don’t want to waste your time, so I will write more information in one post.

At the end of the May I’m visiting also Photography festival in LODZ, Poland where my project The Father’s Tale is a finalist for the Grand Prix Fotofestiwal 2015 award.

If you are from USA, you can see my work on two locations.

As I was posting already, a triptych The Different Same is exhibited in the Mariani Gallery from January 20 – March 4, 2015. The address is University of Northern Colorado, Mariani Gallery, 501 20th St, Greeley CO 80639, USA

From 21st of February until 4th of April, you can see the albumen prints bellow in Los Angeles, that’s St. Tammany Art Association, Antiquarian Image Exhibition, 320 North Columbia St., Covington, LA 70433.

Great Depression – a project by Borut Peterlin from Marcos Núñez Cid on Vimeo.

Honouring elderly photographers

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My neighbour Rajko Henigman is 87 years old and he was a photographer and cinema operator. His father Karel Henigman was a shoemaker and an amateur photographer who created amazing collection of photographs during the first world war. In the our little town of Dolenjske Toplice is a spa but during the first world war it was a rehabilitation centre for soldiers and Karel Henigman documented daily life of soldiers, during their exercise, rehabilitation, hospitals, preparing food and so on. Very impressive silver-gelatine glass plate negatives formats from 9x12cm to 18x24cm. Rajko is the keeper of his father heritage and he asked me not to photograph his fathers negatives.

Rajko was curios how am I enlarging my glass plate negatives, so I invited him to my darkroom and enlarged a portrait of him that I’ve done some time ago. He said my technique of dodging and burning is the same as he was doing it when he was young. He show me some tips and we enjoyed our time together.

Borut Peterlin and Božena Pelikan in front of Studio Pelikan

Borut Peterlin and Božena Pelikan in front of Studio Pelikan

Some time ago I’ve visited Božena Pelikan, 93 year old youngest daughter of Josip Pelikan. I wrote a post about the Josip Pelikan few years ago, but this time she showed me the other facilities that Josip Pelikan was using after second world war until his death in 1977. What a privilege to enter the rooms of a great photographer, seeing how he worked, how much have he created. I could feel his presence in the coat that was still hanging on the door where he left it in 1977.

It’s an honour for me to pay tribute to elderly photographers. They are inspiration. I hope in the future I could make a series of art images with these objects. I hope I can make a sort of a conversation with photographs between three photographers, the present one, the deceased one and the one that is not born yet, but will look at the images sometime in the future.

Do you understand? A photographer who is not born yet will look at my images that are not created yet, but when he/she will look at it will have a feeling that they are here from forever. When we look at the old images we have a feeling they are here because someone has left them, but no, they are here because someone created them and the other preserved them. Photographs in front of you are not dusty objects, they are someones intention.

Written by Borut Peterlin

31 January, 2015 at 23:49

The Different Same triptych that will be exhibited at Wet Plate Collodion Juried Show in Mariani Gallery, Northern Colorado, USA

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An albumen print, double coated with albumen and twice hand coated with silver, toned with gold, contact copied from a wet plate collodion plate, format 10x12".

An albumen print, double coated with albumen and twice hand coated with silver, toned with gold, contact copied from a wet plate collodion plate, format 10×12″.

A carbon print on glass, contact copied from a (manipulated) wet plate collodion plate, format 10x12".

A carbon print on glass, contact copied from a (manipulated) wet plate collodion plate, format 10×12″.

An ambrotype, a wet plate collodion plate, format 10x12".

An ambrotype, a wet plate collodion plate, format 10×12″.

This work is a triptych. It’s a study of a medium of photography, so I’ve photographed the same tree in two different occasions. The scenery is like that only when the river Krka floods and red alarm for floodings is declared and that was on two occasions in the 2014 year. This three images were from three different glass plates. An ambrotype and two different negatives. Just look closely and you will notice how different this images are really. I’ve made a video on the first occasion and you can find it on the bottom of the post. I also came up with few new solutions how to frame glass plates, especially very heavy plates like 3+3 mm glass plates size 30x40cm (12×16″). The details are described in captions.

Anyway, what I love with the photography of 19th Century is that a photographer had about fifty processes and it’s variations how to make a photography and each of the processes had it’s aesthetic characteristic. Today digital photography is so standardized that a photographer have only one way how to exhibit a photograph, that’s an inkjet print.

And my triptych, entitled The Different Same is all about that. Like the famous photograph: Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, 1967, by photographer Diane Arbus it appears at the first glance the same image, only when you look closer, you see that the three images are very much different and they are different because I – the author – decided to make it so. To interpret the reality as I please. Photography was never an objective medium. If I quote Susan Sontag (from heart), a photograph can only provide an evidence that something did happen, that something was happening in front of the lens. What has happened is an interpretation left to the photographer and the viewwer. Of if I may quote already mentioned Diane Arbus, “A picture is a secret about a secret, the more it tells you the less you know.”

Let me invite you to the event. The exhibition will be on display in the Mariani Gallery from January 20 – March 4, 2015. A Closing Reception and Award Ceremony will be held on Wednesday, March 4 from 4 – 6 pm. Juror Quinn Jacobson will give a lecture and gallery talk during the day. The address is University of Northern Colorado, Mariani Gallery, 501 20th St, Greeley CO 80639, USA.

The rule of a Cheetah

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An albumen print toned with gold, from a wet plate collodion negative.

An albumen print toned with gold, from a wet plate collodion negative.

A wet plate collodion negative. The negative was solely subbed on edges of the glass plate and after 20 minutes of redevelopment, it got torn in a surreal way. I've dried it  on heat and varnish it.

A wet plate collodion negative. The negative was solely subbed on edges of the glass plate and after 20 minutes of redevelopment, it got torn in a surreal way. I’ve dried it on heat and varnish it.


A friend of mine who is a very successful business man told me the rule of a Cheetah. Cheetah is the fastest running animal and it can reach the speed up to 121 km/h. For achieving that kind of speed it uses wast amount of energy. If the chase was not successful, if the pray runs away, the cheetah needs to rest for the rest of the day. In the next week Cheetah has two more attempts to chase down a pray. If the predator misses a pray for the third time, cheetah dies from exhaustion.

The same rule can be applied in business. You may have a wonderful product, the best one in the world, but if you don’t sell it, you will never be able to launch another one and your business will get exhausted.

This is the problem of my life. I’m passionately interested in so many things at the same time, I have a hard time to focus and limit my interests. I have a good excuse, I live in small country of Slovenia, residents of two million so to make a living in such a small market is difficult. The good side is that I’ve learned so many things and I can use them all in my expression. Like at the moment I’m writing this post fiddling with HTML code, in the afternoon I was making albumen prints and before noon I was fixing a carburettor of my car, an old-timer. Before the end of the day I might start editing a video. And oh, this is important, for lunch I’ve made a fantastic risotto with curry, vegetables and soya chunks.

I love making stuff and I have no fear in tackling things, even if I’m not successful, which happens. Like yesterday I’ve cleaned the carburettor, the engine was running smoothly I went for a quick ride, but the rust from the fuel tank got into my engine and the car lost all the power. I had to call my neighbour to winch me home again. Look at the bottom of the post.

But my new year’s resolution is to declutter my life style, to focus. I will focus my career into three branches.

  • My priority number one remains my artistic career, although I can’t live from it just yet, I expect that in 2015, this will change. It will change, I can feel it on my bladder!
  • In next few months I will crack down the woodburytype process, I’m very close, I can see the light!
  • Workshops, making portraits, building a social network.

Let me finish with the a success story of the year 2014. Brewery Pivovarna Laško is celebrating a 190’th anniversary and for that occasion they are bringing to the market a special beer made from a hundred years old receipt. My task was to portray the three experts from the brewery company as specialists. The campaign was conceived by Atelje Balant and now Slovenia is still flooded with collodion images!
At this occasion I would like to thank Anže Grabeljšek and Christian Klant on assisting me during this intensive shoot.

The digital photo by Vid Klančičar jr.

Photo: Vid Klančičar jr.

My neighbour winching me home after my carburettor was jammed with rust from  rusted fuel tank. When I came home I ordered a new fuel tank and new fuel pump.

My neighbour winching me home after my carburettor was jammed with dirt from rusted old fuel tank. When I came home I ordered a new fuel tank and new fuel pump.

Written by Borut Peterlin

2 January, 2015 at 23:54

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