The Lifers Project

LIFERS from Six­Eleven on Vimeo.

Update: Feb 8th 2014

Cur­rent­ly the orig­i­nal plates from  “The Lif­ers Project | rt. 66 Col­lec­tion” are on dis­play at Svper Ordi­nary  in Den­ver Co. You can see the whole col­lec­tion and pur­chase lim­it­ed signed and num­bered prints from the project, as well as a few one off Alu­mi­types that did not make the col­lec­tion. For more infor­ma­tion on the project fol­low The Lif­ers Project Blog  


Artist State­ment:

This project is a com­bi­na­tion of my pas­sion for pho­tog­ra­phy and skate­board­ing. Dis­cour­aged by the mean­ing­less­ness of most dig­i­tal images, a desire grew inside of me to cre­ate some­thing authen­tic. I want­ed to be more involved with the process. I want­ed to be back in the dark­room and work­ing with my hands. I want­ed to remove myself from the vir­tu­al world of dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­phy.

Some peo­ple say that mak­ing a person’s por­trait in wet col­lo­di­on can cap­ture their soul. At least that’s what the Native Amer­i­cans of the 19th Cen­tu­ry believed. And some peo­ple today believe it, too.

The process was invent­ed in 1851 and rev­o­lu­tion­ized pho­tog­ra­phy. With its sen­si­tiv­i­ty to UV light and long expo­sure times, wet col­lo­di­on has the abil­i­ty to see beneath the skin, reveal­ing char­ac­ter and depth.

To have a wet col­lo­di­on por­trait tak­en has always been a lux­u­ry. When the process became pop­u­lar, it would typ­i­cal­ly cost three to six month’s salary to have a por­trait made on glass… Far less than com­mis­sion­ing a paint­ing, but still very expen­sive. It was often the only pho­to­graph peo­ple had of them­selves or their fam­i­ly. The process is very sta­ble, images made in the 1850s and 1860s look as good today as the day they were made.

I first saw wet col­lo­di­on pho­tographs vis­it­ing my grand­par­ents at their shore house on the Chesa­peake Bay. When I was younger I didn’t under­stand the tech­ni­cal por­tion of the process but knew that my great-great-grand­fa­ther, Low­ell Gilmore, had a pho­tog­ra­phy stu­dio in New York. where he made wet col­lo­di­on por­traits.

Wet Collodion Tintype

Above Left: Low­ell Gilmore and his wife Emma Gilmore 1857 | Albu­men print made from a wet col­lo­di­on neg­a­tive. Above Right: Low­ell Gilmore 1854 | Tin­type.

Last year, I was feel­ing dis­sat­is­fied with dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­phy. Pho­tog­ra­phy for me, began in the dark­room, a very real expe­ri­ence. I missed that con­nec­tion. I’ve made resin prints but I want­ed to make more. I came across the wet col­lo­di­on process. I was intrigued that peo­ple were still work­ing in this process. It allowed me to iden­ti­fy the types of pho­tographs Low­ell Gilmore had left behind, too.

In Feb­ru­ary, 2013, I was intro­duced to Quinn Jacob­son in Den­ver, Col­orado (Stu­dio Q). Quinn is known inter­na­tion­al­ly as an artitst and mas­ter of the process. I took his course and was imme­di­ate­ly hooked. After the course, Quinn began men­tor­ing me. I was spend­ing as much time as I could in the stu­dio learn­ing the intri­ca­cies of the process. I learned about the chem­istry, the gear, the tech­niques, and, need­less to say, I was mak­ing a lot of pho­tographs.

I began mak­ing pos­i­tives on black glass, alu­minum, and neg­a­tives. A neg­a­tive is on clear glass and can be used mul­ti­ple times to make var­i­ous kinds of con­tact prints, or POP (Print­ing Out Paper) prints. My per­son­al favorite is mak­ing Col­lo­di­on-Chlo­ride prints; I like the way they are applied to the paper with their glossy fin­ish. And Col­lo­di­on-Chlo­ride prints are the most archival prints of the 19th cen­tu­ry.

Using my sav­ings, I bought the best equip­ment avail­able. I pur­chased an 11″ x 14″ hand­made Cha­monix view cam­era, a few antique brass lens­es from the 19th cen­tu­ry, and a large for­mat tri­pod made by Reis Tripods in Seat­tle, Wash­ing­ton. I’ve invest­ed in all the nec­es­sary chem­istry to get start­ed. I also pur­chased a 1973 Airstream Land Yacht so I can have a mobile dark­room and make wet col­lo­di­on pho­tographs any­where.

In search of inspi­ra­tion and ideas to com­pile a col­lec­tion of work, I looked to what I love, skate­board­ing. I’d been tak­ing por­traits of friends and had Chet Chil­dress come to the stu­dio. Chet is an artist and skate­board­er and it was the pho­tos of him that inspired the Lif­ers project.

Black Glass Ambrotype

Mad­ness Tryp­tic | whole plate black glass ambrotypes.