“For the folks of many different Indian tribes who sit for [Shane’s] portraits, and who often become his life-long friends, Shane builds lasting rapport. It is this rapport, and the importance of honest collaboration between people of different cultures, that is so vital for our country and is at the heart of moving forward as a nation …” – Debra A. Haaland, U.S. Congresswoman for New Mexico’s 1st District, Laguna Pueblo, March 21st, 2019
North Dakotan Shane Balkowitsch’s first personal camera was not an Instamatic Kodak or a point-and-shoot Nikon, but rather a large format wet plate camera. As a self-taught ‘image-maker’ and one of the fewer than 1,000 wet plate collodion artists practicing around the world, Balkowitsch has devoted himself fully to mastering the obsolete photographic technology since 2012.
Northern Plains Native Americans: A Modern Wet Plate Perspective (Glitterati Editions, Fall 2019) presents a selection from Balkowitsch’s photographic project which aims to capture 1000 wet plate portraits of Native Americans. Following in the footsteps of Edward S. Curtis and Orlando Scott Goff, Balkowitsch pays homage to his home state and its Native American heritage and culture. His photographs highlight the dignity of his subjects, depicting them not as archetypes, but individuals of contemporary identities with historical legacies. In our image-saturated world informed by automation and digital speed, Northern Plains Native Americans offers a fresh perspective on the photographic imagination.
In stark contrast to the digital process, wet plate photography—a practice that dates back to nineteenth-century Victorian origins—involves preparing a glass plate with collodion and silver nitrate solution for an extended exposure in the camera. In Balkowitsch’s natural light studio, the Nostalgic Glass Wet Plate Studio in Bismarck, North Dakota, a proper exposure takes around 10 seconds, about 600 times longer than an iPhone camera. Approaching the historically embedded technique from a contemporary perspective, Balkowitsch’s process transforms the limitations of the medium—its labor and time sensitive nature —into opportunities for creative explorations. The resulting ambrotypes attest to the unique, unparalleled beauty of this archaic photographic form existing at the intersection of art and science, both past and present.
“Each image contains not only the moment it was taken, but the time in which it was taken. People are willing to hold their breath, focus their eyes and still their thoughts for the 10 seconds necessary to make an exposure. Each exposure contains a piece of eternity. In essence, people willingly give me a little part of their lives to be photographed in collodion,” says Balkowitsch.”
In his introduction to the book, photographer Herbert Ascherman writes: “Shane Balkowitsch is a living link to an aesthetic sadly missing in today’s fast paced world of instant imagery. Shane’s art not only requires craftmanship, but a great deal of physical and emotional commitment as well. His perspective is that a painted portrait is the opinion of the painter. He understands that a photographic portrait is the photographer’s statement of fact. Shane the photographer and his Native American sitter have collaborated in the creation of a piece of contemporary history using classical methodology.”
Balkowitsch achieved a milestone on October 28th of 2018. On behalf of the Three Affiliated Tribes, Calvin Grinnell, called Running Elk of the Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara Nation, bestowed upon Shane the honor of the Indian name Maa’ishda tehxixi Agu’agshi (Hidatsa), the ‘Shadow Catcher’.
About Shane Balkowitsch:
Artist Shane Balkowitsch is a self-taught large format photographer. As one of the fewer than 1,000 wet plate collodion artists practicing around the world, Balkowitsch carries on the tradition of the Victorian photographic method, which dates back to the 19th century. Based in Bismarck, North Dakota, Balkowitsch established the first natural light wet plate studio constructed in the entire country in over 100 years, the Nostalgic Glass Wet Plate Studio. His works are held in prestigious institutions, including the State Historical Society of North Dakota and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D. C.
Hardcover: 128 pages
Publisher: Glitterati Editions (October, 2019)
Product Dimensions: 9.8 x 12.5 inches
Price: $50.00 US