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I Built the First Natural Light Wet Plate Studio in the US in Over a Century

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There are fewer than 1,000 wet plate collodion artists practicing around the world, and as far as I know, I am the only one in the state of North Dakota. 5 years ago, I didn’t own a camera and knew nothing about photography. I saw a wet plate online and I was immediately drawn to it, and thus my journey began.

I was told early on that there was no way a non-photographer who has never owned a camera can figure out this archaic process from 1848. 45 days after that conversation, I had made my very first wet plate photo.

Fast forward 5 years, and I recently just completed construction of a natural light wet plate studio, built from the ground up.

My new studio is surely the only one in this state. I also believe that it’s the first natural light wet plate studio constructed in the entire country in over 100 years. The name of my studio is Nostalgic Glass Wet Plate Studio and it is located in Bismarck, North Dakota.

The new studio is 1,800 square feet in size and features a huge wall of glass and skylight, just as they used in the Victorian Era. In fact, I could not source proper glass for the studio and it took me 6 months to sort this one problem out.

All modern glass has either a film inside of it to block out U.V. or is two panes of glass with gas inside that also block out U.V. People don’t want the items in their houses and buildings to be damaged and faded by the sun, so you cannot usually find glass these days without this protection.

Wet plate collodion photography requires natural ultraviolet light in order to create an exposure. In fact, it requires a lot of natural light. If I did not solve this issue with the glass, I might as well have put up a brick wall instead of a window.

So I asked myself: what industry wants as much natural UV light as possible to be transmitted through glass into a space. I finally found my answer to that question: a greenhouse!

The windows’ dimensions and pitch were taken from a book written by Dr. Felix Raymer titled “Photo Lighting: A Treatise on Light and Its Effect Under the Skylight, Including Chapters on Skylight and Skylight Construction, Window Lighting and Dark Room Work.” It was published back in 1904.

I initially designed the building on a napkin and then we were off and running. The entire build took 2 years of planning and 8 months of building. Instead of using artificial electric bulbs in the studio, I was going to harken back to the early days of photography, when the only light source ever used was the sun.

In the 19th century, there was no making of pictures at night — if it was overcast or in the dead of winter and the sun was not available, photographs were generally just not taken.

I built this new studio out of the love of history. I knew all those studio photographs that I adored from the 19th century were taken using a natural light studio and I was determined to bring this craft to my home state of North Dakota.

I’ve made over 2,500 wet plates in the past 5 years, have had numerous exhibitions, and have had my plates are curated by numerous museums in different parts of the world. My wet plate of Evander Holyfield is currently at the Portrait Gallery in the Smithsonian. I am presently working with the Heard Museum in Arizona, which is going to acquire 3 of my Native American plates.

I have been working on a series called “Northern Plains Native Americans: A Modern Wet Plate Perspective”, and have over 200 plates permanently curated by the Historical Society of North Dakota.

I have only been using the new space since November 1st, but the light and magic that is being brought by that natural light is incredible. It is amazing to be able to create and compose images.

When you abandon the quick digital and film technology, something rather remarkable happens. It can take up to an hour to compose, expose, develop and fix a wet plate. We are not taking hundreds of images and picking the what we like the best. In one of my Friday afternoon sessions, I make about 5 plates over 4 hours. When you slow down, when you utilize a 160-year-old technology to makes works of art — things are just different.

By being slower and having to follow a very strict set of rules to make an image, you find a way to work around the limitations of the process and the process pays you back, tenfold.

Here are some of my recent works that have been created in this new studio space:

The new studio is allowing me to light and shape the light like never before. The possibilities are endless and I look forward to spending the rest of my days creating in my little piece of heaven on Earth.

Life was simpler during the wet plate era, they were more difficult and tough, but they were simpler and when I create in my new space, I feel that I am transported back to another time. A time before the digital camera movement gave us information glut and excess, when images had to be made by hand and you got what you put into the image.

When I make a black glass positive ambrotype, that is the only one in the world. It is a one-of-a-kind and it cannot be duplicated. There is something special about that, but then again, I am a hopeless romantic who feels the world is a better place when the wet plate collodion process is still practiced by people like myself that really want to create something from nothing.

There is no finer photographic process in the world than the one that I hold so dear to my heart.


About the author: Shane Balkowitsch is a wet plate collodion photographer based in North Dakota. He is the owner of Nostalgic Glass Wet Plate Studio. You can also connect with Balkowitsch through Facebook.

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8 Stupidly Simple Instant Pot Recipes

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We’ve loved the Instant Pot since we first wrote about it way back in July 2016. The brilliant thing about electric pressure cookers like the Instant Pot is that you can make dinner in under an hour with very little effort or attention. The results taste nearly as good as slow dinners made on the stove (sometimes better!), and you have only one pot to clean at the end.
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What we saw at the Western PA Mobility Showcase – a Transportation Nerd’s Dream

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It’s probably not cool to nerd out about transportation, but boy howdy did we ever at the Western PA Mobility Showcase hosted by City of Pittsburgh Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI). The Showcase, held in Oakland at Pitt’s Alumni Hall, featured everything from autonomous vehicles to bike shares to other futuristic stuff like a hyperloop proposal as well as a super sweet electric car.

In a release announcing the event, the Director of DOMI, Karina Ricks, outlined the importance of the Showcase, saying “transportation is radically changing. New choices in travel and new technologies make it cleaner and more convenient than ever. New innovations make headlines every week – many of them originating from our own Southwestern Pennsylvania researchers and industries.” Director Ricks is right, transportation is rapidly evolving. Remember when you couldn’t use an app to just magically ping a nearby car to come pick you up? That was only a few years ago. Remember when you needed someone to actually drive the vehicle you were in? Yeah, that’s a thing of the past! Transportation now is higher tech and in some ways beyond what we could have ever imagined, or at least that’s what we found at the Mobility Showcase.

Transportation Nerds wander around event

So what did we see?

Autonomous Transportation

Uber was at the event. If you don’t know Uber by now, then you don’t own a smartphone, probably don’t live in Pittsburgh, or are from the past.

Also, showing off driver-less vehicles were Easymile, Navya, and Local Motes. The three companies all have box-shaped futurist transports similar to the ones found in the film Total Recall. Unrelated to anything in particular, both Easymile and Navya have promo videos with Muzak sounding techno music, and Local Motors went with the classic hard rock. Listen and watch their videos below.

Easymile…

And Nayva…

Local Motors’ Ollie…

Pittsburgh’s Bikeshare

Walking is fine, we guess, but biking is way faster. The event presented a few two-wheeled options for getting around the Steel City.

Healthy Ride rep explains the share in Bike Share

Healthy Ride allows you to grab a bike from one of its many docking stations you have probably already seen around the City. Apparently, you can totally use your ConnectCard for free unlimited 15 minute rides. That’ll almost get you from East Liberty to the Strip District.

Bucking the whole bike docking station concept were two other bike share companies, LimeBike and Spin, that took up opposing corners at the event. Both LimeBike and Spin allow you to get on, ride, and just leave their bikes wherever. It’s similar to what you do with your clothes at the end of the day; you put em on, take em off, and throw them wherever when you get home. Both companies use GPS, self-locking, and apps, but have different looking bikes.

Software and more

Advanced software was used by pretty much everything at the Showcase, but some of the specialized technology on display at the event will change transportation operations and infrastructure going forward.

If you’ve ever sat endlessly at a red light when there is no cross traffic, you will probably be interested in tech from Rapid Flow. The tech company, which spun out from Carnegie Mellon University, has developed a software called Surtrac that uses artificial intelligence to sense traffic condition. They apparently are already working with the City of Pittsburgh, so hopefully this flippin’ traffic here in town will soon be a thing of the past.

The University of Pittsburgh showed off its new real-time transit screen, created by the appropriately named TransitScreen. It like shows all transportation options in the area from buses to bike share to Zipcar/Uber/Lyfts. It’s the thing we always needed, but for some reason we never had. You can see when your transport is going to actually arrive. Don’t believe us, go to Oakland and be amazed!

Carnegie Mellon University’s Traffic21 also had a table. Traffic21 is a multi-disciplinary research institute where us transportation nerds can, according to its website, “design, test, deploy and evaluate information and communications technology-based solutions to address the problems facing the transportation system of the Pittsburgh region and the nation.”

Are you an Uber or Lyft driver? Then you are going to want to download the free app Gridwise that is designed to help drivers optimize their time and increase earnings.

Roadbotics demo map

Until we have flying cars – thanks for lying to us Back to the Future 2 – we have to deal with roads. But, if you weren’t aware, roads need to be constantly repaired. Roadbotics will map and photo all those stupid potholes across a city or town. You can see how they marked a town outside Pittsburgh right now here. The rep at the event mentioned that it would be a yearly process beating out the current every three-year road review he says the city currently uses. (We were too excited from the event to fact check this.)

A Vehicle for you & your friends

Need a car to get out of the City? Why you’d want to leave the Burgh, we do not know, but  Zipcar is still available if you need it.

Chariot uses a Ford Transit Wagon like a bus. It’s mass transit for company employees or it can charter you to some far-off destination, maybe a group wine trip you and your friends have been putting off.

Tesla parked outside Pitt’s Alumni Hall

Tesla parked one of their sexy vehicles outside of Alumni Hall. We want this, erh, we need this. At Tesla’s table we signed up for a chance to win driving a Telsa for a week. But if someone wants to buy it for us, or if Telsa wants to just give it to us, we wouldn’t object.

Also, pedaling all-electric vehicles were Proterra, which offers electric buses. Having a non-fossil fuel mass transit system would surely make us one of the most sustainable cities in the country (a green trait we’d love to rub in other cities faces). Pittsburgh Port Authority actually purchased one of these ‘lectric Proterra buses, but other cities bought more than one :(. Oh, it also should be noted that Proterra is an American based company… U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.!

Hyperloop from Chicago to Columbus to Pittsburgh?

Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) had a table at the event. Why was an Ohio-based group at a Pittsburgh event? The MORPC are the ones who put together the hyperloop proposal that goes from Chicago to Columbus to Pittsburgh. A hyperloop is literally magic, using magnetic levitation to float a pod above a track which zips along at super fast speeds. An image behind the MORPC table indicated that it would take 20+ minutes to get to Columbus with the hyperloop system. We need this now; their’s a freaking shuffleboard club opening in Chicago that we need to check out!

All and all the Western PA Mobility Showcase was pretty awesome. We learned a lot, saw some cool stuff, and daydreamed about taking a hyperloop to Chicago, using one of the bike shares to ride to DC in the summer, taking driver-less vehicles to hang with friends, and washing our shiny new Telsa. The event really showed that a futuristic Pittsburgh isn’t something far away, it’s happening right now.

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Watch: 'Not Directed by Terrence Malick' Shows Filmmaker's Massive Influence

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14 films that bear the unmistakable mark of a master.

Since the release of Badlands in 1973, Terrence Malick has been recognized as one of Hollywood's most lyrical and uniquely visual storytellers. And after a two-decade-long filmmaking sabbatical, Malick returned with The Thin Red Line in 1998, providing moviegoers with a World War II story unlike any they'd ever seen.

His influence remains strong. As evidenced in the video below by Jacob T. Swinney, Malick's aesthetic has had a profound influence on a generation of filmmakers, and Not Directed by Terrence Malick provides clips from 14 films that show off "Malick-esque shots," though they were, as the title says, not the product of the visionary director himself.

As Swinney notes, "Malick's influence on certain filmmakers is undeniable." Clips from, among others, Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Ex Machina, and even Man of Steel are used as examples illustrating the wide variety of films featuring "one of the most copied" styles in cinema (indie, as well as mainstream.)

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Creating a Wet Plate Collodion Photo in a Portable Darkroom

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Adrian Cook is a wet plate collodion photographer based in Sydney, Australia. The Guardian made this 7-minute video in which Cook talks about his background and walks through the wet plate collodion process by shooting a photo of Sydney Harbor.

“I find [with] digital, there’s no surprises,” Cook says. “I spend more time in front of a computer, and that’s not why I started photography. I still love that kind of… not quite sure what you’re going to get.”

Here’s a collection of plates Cook has made over the course of his career:

You can find more of Cook’s work on his website, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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Famous Album Covers Recreated as Cat Photos

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Brooklyn-based photographer and graphic designer Alfra Martini has been taking famous album covers and recreating them with cats instead of humans. She calls the project The Kitten Covers.

“Legendary albums from a world dominated by kittens,” says Martini, who owns two cats herself.

You can follow along with Martini’s project on The Kitten Covers.

(via The Kitten Covers via Bored Panda)

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