TOPSHIT PHOTOGRAPHY blog

Photography, Fine Art, Wet Plate Collodion, Alternative photography

Archive for the ‘writting on photography’ Category

How much does Wet Plate Collodion cost?

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In this vlog I’m shedding new light onto the myth that the wet plate collodion process is a very expensive hobby. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. In the end I haven’t done all the maths, but I reckon that with 300 EUR you can buy the Brownie, tripod and all the chemistry to make 50 plates or more. THX!

If you appreciate this kind of content and you would like me to do more of it, I would appreciate your support through buying my book or becoming my patreon.

Links:
https://www.borutpeterlin.com/shop/
https://www.patreon.com/borutpeterlin

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TopSheet Photography Book Review – Peter Koštrun

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In this Topsheet Photography Book Review I’m featuring Peter Koštrun, a Slovenian photographer and professor at Academy ALOU in Ljubljana, Slovenia. The book is available for purchase in Gallery Photon on the link bellow: https://photon.si/artists/peter-kostrun/

If you like this vlog, you may support me by buying my book or by becoming my patreon. Links bellow:

https://www.borutpeterlin.com/shop/

https://www.patreon.com/borutpeterlin

Written by Borut Peterlin

4 July, 2018 at 14:04

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!

Was ist Kunst? (inspired by Robert M. Pirsig)

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Was ist Kunst?* or What is art is the question that was not invented together with with the art itself but it was invented in Ancient Greece and in this blog post I’m settling the score once it for all and give answer what art is. I warn you though, you might not like it 🙂

As followers of my blog know, for my 40th birthday I’ve bought a Land Rover 109 old-timer car that is even older then me, it’s 43 years and for last fifteen years it was standing in a garage. You can imagine that once I’ve started driving it, an avalanche of malfunctions blasted on my shoulders. It’s almost two months since it’s standing on my courtyard and I can’t move it to a mechanic and since it’s freezing winter a mechanic don’t want to come and take a look. It got a nickname The Real Estate! The good thing is that I’ve spent last three years learning collodion photography from scratch, so I have a stamina an patience to sort things out, so I used the expression from Jeremy Clarkson: How hard can it be? and decided to fix the car on my own.

For inspiration I’ve read for the third time the book Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig and I confess, only this time I can say I’ve understood the message of the book. No wonder this book is in Guinness book of world records as the bestseller that was rejected by 121 publishers before 122nd actually published it and soon became a bestseller, with over five million copies sold.

OK, you may ask what does that has to do with the bombastic introduction in my post? Everything. This book made me realise what art is and changed my life profoundly. The line of thoughts that will follow is very influenced by the book and before you will condemn me, I publicly admit that I will misquote and misinterpret the book, so I strongly recommend that you read it by your own pace. (It’s even in Slovenian for my Slovenian following presidents!)

So, what Art is???

On the Internet there are many articles on what art is, but let me highlight a very simplistic, populistic easy reading article 27 Responses to the Question “What is Art?”.

But that very simplistic article will give you just as much valid answer as any art historian would. Let me say it more correctly. Any art historian will give you just as false answer as any article. (yes, including this one) 🙂

The original sin of an attempt to define what art is, is that people are aiming in the wrong direction! We are looking at things in gallery and question if this should be there, if this is art. We expect that an object would have some sort of ingredient that would define it as art, some sort of objectiveness. In ancient times that ingredient was gold, whatever object contained gold and other expensive materials, it was glorified as art. Then it was the craft! Obviously some painters can draw with breathtaking accuracy and expressing themselves with huge skill. Then came avant-garde and scandalous Duchamp’s signed urinal entitled Fountain is still a case of questioning if that is art. And so on, and so on…

Any attempt to define what art is, is like standing in a river, facing downstream, observing what river flow is bringing and evaluating. You could devote your life doing that, but you could not foretell the future. Every mathematical equation works both way. 1+1=2 and so it is 2=1+1. Art is not mathematic and there isn’t a person in the world who could not tell you what you need to do to create art.

To be honest there are few super-stars curators that do speculate and take a role of weather forecasters and decide what contemporary art is. But those people are not to be mistaken for art-historians, although they might have an education in art-history, they are creators, they curate exhibitions, they decide who will win what award, they are more contemporary artists then art historians. But even so they can not come up with an answer what art is.

In today’s times we divide between art and craft, but that wasn’t so in the ancient times. Aristotle’s cosmological work On The Heavens is the most influential treatise of its kind in the history of humanity and as I’ve learned he started the concept of subjective and objective, the foundation of western civilisation.

In the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Pirsig talks about Quality, Ancient Greeks named that principle Arete and I’ve recognised the roots of the Art. Arete = Art

Wikipedia:
Arete (/ˈærətiː/; Greek: ἀρετή), in its basic sense, means “excellence of any kind”.[1] The term may also mean “moral virtue”.[1] In its earliest appearance in Greek, this notion of excellence was ultimately bound up with the notion of the fulfillment of purpose or function: the act of living up to one’s full potential.

I think ancient Greeks got it right, we missed it completely. Art is a process of creation and although it does leave traces behind, those traces aren’t ART itself, they are footprints left behind by artists. Those foot prints can be objective as a painting in a gallery or subjective as a dance in a theatre. Those foot prints are worthless if they aren’t made by art in action, if they aren’t done as Arete! And if we see the footsteps, we might imagine the line of thought the line of creation the line of craft that the artist was taking while creating the art piece. Our creativity fuels with inspiration.

Let me be more precise, the Art is not the Mona Lisa in Louvre, or Duchamp’s Fountain or a leap of dance of a dancer. The Art is an event that happened and after the event a trace is left behind. Let me say it with other words. Mona Lisa painting by Leonardo Da Vinci is just as much art as are the ruins of Pompeii the city of Pompeii! The road sign Rome is not the city of Rome, nor is a souvenir or any building or a person living in the city!

That revelation opened my eyes and from now on I see the world differently. Last two days I was fixing my Land Rover. I approached the work with the arete attitude as I’m making the most important exhibition in my life. I suspected that the cause of my problems is the fuel pump. Two weeks ago I didn’t know what a mechanical a fuel pump is, but I’ve focused on the problem, dismantled it, changed all the valves, diaphragm, seals and put it back. Now works perfectly and it will continue so for the next ten years. Unfortunately, I realised that the cause of my car’s malfunction is not the fuel pump, but it’s distributor. I ordered new parts. Nevertheless the fuel pump, poor girl, needed the restoration.

Let me finish with paraphrasing Pirsig with the case of my Land Rover.
Objects are just atoms and molecules. They do not have a moral or a feeling for what is right and what is wrong. They are what they are because somebody rearrange materials in the way they are. The malfunction does not exist in a car, it exist solely in the viewer’s mind. The car is a direct reflection of it’s viewer’s interpretation.

The car that is standing still for two months in my courtyard represent disharmony in me and I’ve decided to regain the peace by fixing the car. I am using wrenches, bolts, spanners but my most important tool is ARETE, the will to do whatever is needed to do, so the car will fit my interpretation of how it should be. I use arete to regain the internal peace and that will happen only when my concept of a car will be aligned with my senses.

This process is the feeling that every artist know. It’s a feeling when you are alive, when your hands are golden, hands are moving and miracle is emerging right in front of your eyes! An artist is not separated from the the object until the object is aligned with artist’s interpretation how it should be and it brings peace to the artist. When the artist finishes working on it, from this moment on, art (arete) seize to be and the artist and the art object become two separate entities.

Do you see, people are looking at an object and questioning if this is art, but they are aiming it at the wrong direction. Art is an event, not an object!!!

Written by Borut Peterlin

18 February, 2015 at 13:35

Thoughts on photography: Breaking the rules – what a stupid cliche…

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IMG_20141122_105014521_HDR I’ve bought a Land Rover 109, year 1972, an old-timer. It took me more than a month to fix (almost) everything and the last thing was changing the tires. Last Friday I’ve registered and insured the car and went on the road to buy new tires. I took a short cut to Ljubljana, through forest, I mean that’s where Land Rovers are at home, but a maniac crashed in me with a Mitsubishi pick-up truck. He was speeding as hell and I couldn’t steer my car away, since the old-timer does not have a servo steering system or ABS brakes. The other car steered in the hill and then bounced back in me, crashing sideways. Look at the damage the impact caused with sideways crashing. And that’s a Land Rover not plastic fantastic car! The pick-up truck took another 30 meters before he could stop. Imagine what would happen if we would crash head to head… Luckily this did not happen and nobody was hurt. The very next moment a peculiar thought came into my mind, totally irrational in the context of the event:

Damn it, your life almost suddenly ended and until now you’ve published only one book! Only one fucking book!!! Who will publish all of your beloved book dummies if you don’t care to bother?!?

Books that I've done with my photography. These are mainly handmade books.

Books that I’ve done with my photography. These are mainly handmade books.

I think a book is a perfect medium for my photography and so in the middle of a forest, at completely inappropriate time I’ve made a resolution to start publishing my books, starting right now by writing down some thoughts on photography. I mean that was the initial purpose of this sketch book of mine, the Topshit Photography BlogOriginal since 2006! ON BREAKING RULES… Breaking the rules is such a stereotype in our world. I’ve just googled the expression and it came down to about 217 million hits. I haven’t clicked trough all the 217 million sites, but the general understanding of the expression differs very much from my understanding! What are rules? Metaphorically speaking rules are like crutches. A person who can not walk use crutches to gain more support and crutches take weight from his legs to his hands, increasing balance. If you were one of the lucky ones who had never been seriously injured you don’t have a clue how difficult and complex activity is to start walking again. Walking is basically a continues fall. Imagine you’ve managed to stand up on your two feet. Fantastic, indescribable feeling that only champions can feel. The bad news is that if you want to start walking you need to lose balance by leaning forward, start falling forward, with one leg catch the fall, lift your body up into balance and then again leaning forward loosing balance and catching the fall with the other leg. Basically you are juggling with your balance while (usually) being in great pain. Crutches are your best friends 🙂 Once the person know how to walk again can use a simple walking stick and later start walking without. If the person wants to run or dance, can not do it with crutches! The same principle applies also to rules in photography. Rules and exercises in composition and aesthetics are like crutches. It helps you to focus, to gradually learn basics and then when the time comes, you put the crutches gratefully down and start learning the dance of creativity. I know photographers who could put down the crutches, but they do not. The crutches are the spine of their work. Then they start to judge the art through the prism of their crutches. That’s fine, that’s a necessary stage in an evolution of every artist. The true problem appears when a photographer start believing his story filtered through the prism of his crutches, mocking some people and uncritically following others. I get an allergic reaction when I see a debate in the line of thought “What is art?” I read and hear many times about the success stories of breaking the rules. In my ears that sounds so pathetic as an athlete would go in hospital and start breaking crutches because he does not need them. And that is actually a certain modus vivendi in contemporary art work – Let’s brake rules! Artist whose work was conceived with a motif of breaking rules is actually putting the rules that were meant to be broken as the fundament of the work. And there is nothing wrong with that! My bottom-line is that if you start the dance, don’t do it so you could brake your crutches, do it as the next step in your process of learning how to perform the miracle of moving through time and space. It’s so much more fun and free!

PS: the bottom line is that rules in any craft are like crutches. Crutches are not meant to be for dancing or for walking. They are for learning.

Written by Borut Peterlin

29 November, 2014 at 21:02

Personal aftermath – Arles photo festival

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My toppest topshit readers, I apologize for not topshiting on my blog for a while, but I’ve been working. Plus just now I realize that my blog is really well visited. How do I know that? Not with google analytics, but when few people stop you on streets of Arles, shaking hands telling that they follow my blog, you know that’s something. Lately whenever I go, people have stop mispronouncing my name. When I was studying in London, even after a year, friends were still calling me Borat. Which I don’t mind at all. Borat (the character) is a genius! You may call me Einstein or Borat, it’s OK with me. But I know that this blog changed that. People do call me Borut, which is a name only used in Slovenia, not even in Croatia or Bosnia…

What I want to say, is thank you! I appreciate you are following my blog, but that gives me a responsibility to take care of what I publish. I’ve started this blog in 2006 and posted 1037 posts, so believe me there are some doggy topics (like that post Fight for Man’s emarzipation).

Anyway, here is my newest videolog. It’s gathering my impressions after a visit to the festival Les Recontres d’Arles Photographie. I hope you will enjoy it.

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PS: LINK to my 5am project:

FOTOPUB festival http://fotopub.com/en/

Written by Borut Peterlin

31 July, 2014 at 10:46

Simon Weber – Unger and his Nature Printing process from 1852

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This weekend I was visiting Vienna Photo Book Festival and it was really exciting place in time. So many books, so many ideas, so many people to talk to… Unfortunately I managed to make only one proper interview if I don’t count the one I’ve published on Monday. Since I’m very much interested in alternative photography processes from 19th Century I was overwhelmed with the work of Simon Weber-Unger! He has a gallery Wissenschaftliches Kabinett in Vienna and it’s specialized in 19th Century photography. Furthermore his project of reviving Nature printing process is breathtaking indeed. I’ve made this interview to share with you his work. I hope you will get a glimpse how great it is. I know it’s not photography, but it is amazingly beautiful print!

More about this topic you can find on