Northern Plains Native Americans: A Modern Wet Plate Perspective
Each and every day the world is filled with millions and millions of digital photographs that have no value, character, significance or physical form. That is not the case with a wet plate. The wet plate process is magical, and the end result is tangible and precious.
Digital photography of today relies on technology. Wet plate photography relies on 160 year old chemistry, a bit of magic, and some luck. I think it is very important that as technology moves forward, we embrace and continue to celebrate and not forget important processes from the past. Wet plate photography is one of those processes. Every time I show someone the wet plate process in person, they are absolutely amazed regarding the ability to get a photograph using some chemicals and pieces of glass that I cut by hand.
It is my goal to capture as many people as I can in this process. Friends, family, loved ones or complete strangers, it does not matter. I want to share with as many people as possible this beloved process that dates back to 1848. Wet plate photography was such an important medium for expression in the past and I want it to continue to be today. It has been said that “you do not take a wet plate photograph; it is given to you” and this is so very true.
Shane Balkowitsch, Ambrotypist
Nostalgic Glass Wet Plate Studio, Bismarck, ND
Wet Plate Photography Explained
Wet plate collodion is one of the earliest forms of photography. Frederick Scott Archer
has been credited with inventing this historic process back in 1851. The process
became very popular worldwide, then quickly died off in the 1880's when a more
convenient way of taking photographs was invented. In recent years there has been a
small revival of the process when a number of contemporary photographers decided to
go back to the roots of photography and embrace the old. Making a wet plate can be
difficult, timely, costly, unpredictable, and requires a high degree of commitment. The
images can be captured on glass (ambrotype) or on metal (tin type). The word
Ambrotype is translated in Ancient Greek as "Immortal Impression". Digital
photography of today relies on technology, wet plate photography relies on 160 year old chemistry and a bit of magic and some luck.
A wet plate photographer makes a film base on a piece of glass or metal using
collodion, submerges it in a silver nitrate solution to make it light sensitive, and then
exposes the photograph usually in an old style wood bellows camera box and antique
brass lens from the 1800's. The process is called wet plate because during the entire process the chemicals on the plates must remain wet and cannot be allowed to dry.
The end result is a one-of-a-kind, archival object of art that will last many lifetimes.
There are wet plates of Abraham Lincoln that look just as good today as they did a
century and a half ago. It is thought that less than 1000 people worldwide carry on the
tradition of wet plate today. Many of those individuals are professional photographers at
the height of their career.
Revised January 20 th , 2022
By Shane B. Balkowitsch, Ambrotypist, Bismarck, North Dakota
To view more of Shane's work please visit him at:
Denver Bryce Spotted Bear 1-28-2023
Corey Lee Davis, Jr.
Michael Crandall Bissonette 4-22-2022
Prints of these pieces and many more were created by master printer in the Netherlands, Luc Brefeld, and will be available for worldwide shipping during the exhibition. The prints are created using carbon Inkjet process, the finest inkjet process on the planet, and are signed, embossed, stamped and labeled, each selling for $250 each. The frames are also labeled on the back.
The sale of these prints supports the American Indian College Fund.
Spirit Room at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 701-237-0230 for purchase or
Shane Balkowitsch at:
(800)355-2956 USA Toll Free