“I think the historical techniques have to be liked.”
Renata Vogl started with photography in 2009 and as of today she has had several exhibitions and was awarded on several international competitions. She uses wet collodion process – ferrotype to transfer female nude and landscape themes on metal sheets. She has fallen for one of the oldest photographic techniques despite its considerable difficulty, occasional headaches, brown fingers and several smaller fires.
Could you please introduce us to your art technique?
Wet collodion process is one of the oldest photographic techniques. The process is called „wet“ because the sensitive layer of collodion is poured on the plate that has to be wet. Only one original of the photography can be created via this process. I use ferrotype technique which is done on the aluminum plate but I do not deal with ambrotype where the glass is used. However, the procedure is similar. The first step includes cleaning and polishing the plate to remove the grease and dirt. Then collodion is applied and is poured on the entire surface by dangling in minimum inversion angles. Afterwards, in the darkroom, plate is placed into sensitized silver nitrate solution, where its stays for several minutes so a new sensitive layer is created. Then the plate has to be added to a specially designed cartridge film, which is put into the camera and then exposed. This should be set in advance, since exposure varies in time from five seconds to several minutes.
Through the history, this technique was used by shooting still life, which is static or in portraits while models were fixed in a certain way, for example, their head was supported so they were able to sit still for two minutes. Picture is then developed in the darkroom by pouring the developer on the sheet. If the result does not correspond to my initial idea, the image can be easily washed off with a cloth or sponge and plate reused. If the image dries, it is not possible to wash it off. The last step includes fixing and varnishing. Metal sheet is heated up by a flame and then a paint lavender oil and juniper resin is applied. This is a very nice step, because everything is lovely lavender scented. Even some people who have particularly developed their olfactory cells can recognize the smell even later, when they smell to the finished picture. Varnish is dried again and you have to be careful due to the fact that it is flammable. Several times it happened that I had to put out the fire with everything what was at hand and I had to throw down and started to jump on almost finished ferrotype so I extinguished the flames – for my colleagues, it was sometimes very funny to watch. Of course, that in this way, I destroyed ferrotype, so even at the last final step there is a possibility it can go wrong. But there is no need to give up and thus you can work on your patience. But otherwise it is a nice step, which completes the whole process during an original and unique picture is created.
Is it expensive?
It’s obviously more costly, chemicals are not cheap and the most expensive solution is nitrate. But there are various online stores where you can purchase preferably available packages.
Does it happen that the photograph is not well developed and it does not work at all?
Very often. When I firstly heard about this process I thought, that is very complex and has many pitfalls. Everything is, however, about the feeling and practice. The more ambrotypes or ferrotypes man does the more he knows what and how, at what temperature, for how long, from where to pour or how to hold the plate. The procedure can be found also on the internet, but one will discover all these “nifty nuances„ after it goes wrong for twenty times and I try it again. Patience is essential.
Why amongst all historical techniques did you choose ferrotype, which is particularly challenging?
With ferrotype I met by chance at the private workshop of photographer Rasťo Čambál, who was at the time very excited. As a beginner it seemed to me very complicated and difficult and I did not understand it. Once again I met ferrotype during my internship at Vladimír Židlický so I began to work more with it and I have become quite thrilled. I think a man, who has any visual perception is charmed very easily with collodion. I think the historical techniques have to be liked. Pictorial form is unique and magical. But it is important not to have any barrier of working with chemicals, as they are flammable and for example nitrate is dangerous, it must not to get into the eyes as this may damage them. You must be really cautious. Interesting and common character of all collodionists is brown fingers. Nitrate, after a few minutes, turns brown and you cannot wash it from your hands. It is typical that brown coloration is gone just after a few weeks. For ordinary people, it might look very strange. In the summer, when I work in shorts or a skirt it is not an exception that my legs are also brown.
What interesting things, except brown fingers, did happen to you at work?
There were days when I failed and had to repeat the process for several times. When I left the workroom I was surprised by the amount of fresh air. There are various vapors, there is ethanol and ether so mild headache from lack of oxygen have occurred several times.
Does photographer need to be also a chemist?
I would not certainly identify myself as a chemist but if someone works with chemicals he should know how to handle them and certainly be aware of how to store them properly and keep them in order.
What do you think, how do your pictures that combine originality of form and content impress the viewer?
Responses are different, depending on who is viewing them. I was recently on the event in Banská Bystrica called “Days of originality”, where I exhibited my ferrotypes and it was quite interesting to see people’s reactions. I’ve never been so immediately confronted with a general audience. The exhibition was held in the shopping center, where you meet different people, from those who are not interested in photography to the professional artists. It has been seen that the “mere mortal“ barely looked at ferrotypes but visitors with some relationship to the arts were thrilled that they could see results of such technique. Many viewers will not understand them at all, others are keen. So it is okay in this way.
More photos at www.artofphotography.eu
Interview by Romana Juhásová / Robert Vano Gallery