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Portraits of fire and fury

My drawing skills are somewhere between a 3-year old and Picasso. When I was preparing concepts for the next portrait photoshoot and using the wet plate collodion technique at Dave Shrimpton's workshop, I've noted the scenes, the light set-up and also drew them loosely to visualise, as you'll see on an example below. The concepts were around the reactions to recent online events, as well as portraying fictional personas.


Wet collodion process was invented in 1851 by Frederick Scott Archer and popularised around the globe, it allowed for shorter exposures and was more comfortable for the subjects in then conditions. I had an opportunity to try this technique three times now by attending the workshops and each time I'm hungry for more. :)

The tin plates are made light sensitive by using various chemicals and until the final moments after the photo is created, chemicals washed and the further fixing chemicals are swimming around the portraits, the scenes come to life and reveal intriguing details.

I like the anomalies created on the edges, which remind me of flames, adding certain depth and unpredictability. Even though I could amend my approach to creating and dealing with the materials for the 'cleaner' results, I like going for this effect. The below are behind the scenes shot as the plate is washed in the fixer, plus the final results I brought home with me, scanned and edited in Lightroom and Photoshop - light touches, so you can see their digital versions.

Directing on set:


I had an idea to do a twist on the famous 1924 portrait of Kiki de Montparnasse called 'Violon d’Ingres' ('Ingres’s Violin', and also, slang for 'hobby') by my photographic hero Man Ray, but my plan was a bit more different.

To realise it, I had to think how to make these black shapes at the back of the body, perhaps cutting sticky sheets or tape, but needed to test it first to see if it goes off safely and if it sticks well. I researched and bought black tape that could be shaped in the way I envisioned. These shapes would be upside down crosses.

I called the portrait 'Lilith'. According to various Middle Eastern tales Lilith is portrayed as a first wife of Adam in the creation myths, as well as a queen, a mythical vampire and a Satan's concubine. To me, she was a symbol of sensual rebellion and the scene was reflecting that, with her sitting on the power symbols. Below are behind the scenes and results. First shot shows how the photo appears at the back of the vintage camera, when setting up the scene - upside down!


This was the comment on a prudent nature of internet, now practically run by bots, and on censoring art and comments.

I gathered bright yellow tape, bought a few black markers and put OFFENDED in Caps Lock on the cut sheets of tape. There were a few challenges to overcome.

Firstly, to stick the tape together as flat as possible, so only the sleek side touches the model in a safest possible way and so the the eyelid and skin are not affected by the glue. Secondly, I had to type the letters in their mirror image, since the wet collodion technique reverses the sides and would distort the wording. Thirdly, to wrap the tape around the model's face and torso so it allows breathing and stays in its position throughout running a few seconds exposure, needed to light the scene. The tape was moving around around ears during the setup, so we had to pay attention to that.

When working with wet collodion technique, there's very limited time to shoot as after adding chemicals to the photographic tin you only have about 10 minutes to photograph. As this scene was demanding and not too comfortable, we only did one take. That portrait is one of the kind.

The colours and emotions were very strong, impactful. I really appreciate Catarina adding her interpretation of the scene and using gestures and eyes to express the subject's feelings.

Giving you my heart

Final scene we shot with Catarina at the end of the studio day after hours of work was around the subject of a dangerous attachment that can happen in the relationships. For this concept, I've sourced and bought thick fake blood, a rubber heart and brought over my good old friend - the black sheer fabric that appears on many portraits. It was to serve as a background for connecting the 'giving heart' person with her body. Some echoes of Stephen King's 'Carrie' were floating around, as well as gore thriller themes.

Again, I would like to praise Catarina who exceeded my plan for this portrait and brought her own thoughts into it. The mimics and expressions she produced, when I worked on the final touches just before releasing the shutter, were outrageous. Outrageously real and beautiful.

I then took the plate to develop it in water and chemicals and stared at it when it was developing in the fixer liquid, revealing the image second after second. I felt my heart beating so fast and adrenaline exploding in the brain, that I had to leave the studio to get some fresh air. It was just so intense to realise the concepts through this demanding technique and work with someone who gets it.

Please leave a comment on social media, I am very curious to see what resonates with you.



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