TOPSHIT PHOTOGRAPHY blog

Photography, Fine Art, Wet Plate Collodion, Alternative photography

Posts Tagged ‘Art

Topshit photography journal 16th of June 2015

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Tomorrow is a big day. I’m almost finished with my preparations for Vienna Photo Book Festival . I’ve cashed in all my chips and now it’s time to go. I’m going to Vienna with a Land Rover, my old-timer. Today I’ve bought Hi-Lift Jack and I’ve sorted the bed in my Land Rover. As a huge fan of Top Gear, I’m planning to do Topshit Gear Special and I’m planning to record my trip as I do, with emphasis on photography and art. The book Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is my inspiration.

I’m not doing this just for the fun of it, but I’m celebrating a new milestone in my photography path. I finally reached the destination after four years of intensive work. Six years or so I’ve seen an exhibition of Sally Mann in London Photographer’s Gallery and I’ve decided there on the spot I want to learn this witchcraft of collodion. It took me more then a year to find Miša Keskenović, who introduced me into the craft and another year to have met Mark Osterman in person. At George Eastman House I’ve seen original albumen prints of Eadweard Muybridge, France Scully Osterman, Mark Osterman and many others. I knew that I want to make a project with it. Albumen print process is in principle very simple process, but if you want to have rich tonality with clear white highlights and deep blacks, it’s very difficult. On top of everything I see my future artwork only in wet plate negative, that is much more difficult to do, then ambrotypes or tintypes.

Practitioners of wet plate collodion process know that the most difficult thing of all is the workflow. It’s one thing to make a good plate (either positive or negative) and it’s completely another thing to be able to do it in whatever situation it is. I bought the Land Rover so I could perfect my workflow and master the process so well that it becomes intuitive and I can focus on the photography itself not thinking on the process.

In the road I’m taking I’m celebrating that. I’m celebrating the past four years of learning and tackling the process and now I feel the process is very natural to me, I’m relaxed and I have plenty of energy to focus on the aesthetic and art. In this road I’m celebrating the fact that I’m making prints that are the best prints I’ve done. I love them so much, I can’t stop looking at them. I know I’ve reached the milestone of learning the craft. Now I can fully focus on my art, on the concepts, on ideas I want to share through the medium of photography.

Here are some random images I’ve done lately. Captioned.

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

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

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.

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

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.

Exhibition of Wet Plate collodion landscapes

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In September 2014 I had an exhibition in Cankarjev dom in Ljubljana. I’ve enjoyed that period of life a lot, taking wet plate negatives, photographing river, defeating summer heat by a swim in a river together with my kids. What a privilege to be alive! I’ve recorded a lot a videos to pass on the knowledge I’ve generously received from Mark Osterman and the Collodion community. I’ve enjoyed the work so much I never found time to edit the video material and unfortunately the material just piled up. In the last few months I haven’t record any videos, because I knew I must edit the old material first and yesterday I’ve started at 9pm, finished at 3am and 12 hours later it’s live on youtube. I hope you will find some useful information and some inspiration in it.

The exhibition represents a path that I walked through in the last two years, while learning the process. But the exhibition started with the tintype of frozen river Krka, that I’ve made two months after I’ve started to do wet plate collodion at the temperature of -17C. HERE is the post from February 2012.

The exhibition is devoted to a painter Božidar Jakac and the concept is inspired by words of a poet Tone Pavček, engraved in his gravestone:

You’ve remained part of the landscape, its pain and its beauties.

And this concept is mirrored in the images, I wanted that in every of image there would be a presence of beauty and pain. I’ve designed the exhibition to be dynamic. I’ve exhibited original tintypes, ambrotype glass plates, toned albumen prints, salt prints, carbon prints, toned cyanotypes and also some toned silver-gelatine enlargements and ink-jets from wet plate collodion negatives.

The most important result from the two years walk, it can not be shown directly, but it’s the most important result. I’ve learned the process, I have no open questions and I can make a good image in (almost) any conditions. I’ve learned many different processes and those tools will play a crucial role in my future art career.

Last but not least, if you want to learn some of that hands-on photography processes, I warmly recommend workshops in George Eastman House with Mark Osterman. It’s one thing to learn the process, but it’s something different to get an access to one of the most interesting and rich collection of photography and feel that you are a part of it.

I can not offer that, but I do offer individual workshops, so if you’re interested in buying a print from me or a workshop, please send me an email to borutpeterlin@gmail.com

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