«THE MORE ACCIDENTAL, THE MORE TRUE...»
I received my first camera for my 8th birthday. It was a classic Soviet camera "Smena 8M". Only professional photographers could use the photo laboratories at that time, so common amateurs bought their own developing and printing equipment. On the weekends they would lock themselves up in the bathroom with it, for a long time, ignoring all knocks on the door.
I also used the red light, experimenting with chemicals. Like many others, I cannot forget my first impression of the main mystery of photography - the appearance of an image on a blank sheet. A print, croaking out of the printer, is in no way comparable to this miracle.
Since then, I have been shooting nonstop. "Zenith-TTL" replaced “Smena”, and was bought with personal savings. Canon EOS 33 followed soon enough. The photo labs were accessible but I still enjoyed making the prints myself. I often experimented with chemicals, timing, revising what seemed like a fault at first glance. Several series appeared that way which resulted in a project called "Escaping beauty." It is still very dear to me. I continue the indefinite search for elusive beauty.
Digital cameras appeared at the time of my youth. Everything new attracts us at that age, especially technologies. I owe the Canon EOS 6D to my mom! Digital really helped me in working on some serious projects. I valued its advantages. Digital images were easy to process, edit and copy. Meanwhile, the copy and the original have no differences.
However, I realized that the technologies that allow us to infinitely multiply the essence are not for me. I was always attracted to something that exists in a single original. The photo has many applications. You can create works of art with its help and experience feelings similar to those that you experience with spiritual practices, which I was seriously involved in during my travels in India.
Therefore, digital Canon was soon replaced one more time with the film camera, the long range FED-3, which has been my tool of choice up until now. I continued with photography, but began thinking about painting and bought paint and canvases. But then, the amazing works of Sergei Romanov caught my eye. They were ambrotypes: black-and-white images on glass, made with technology from the XIX century.
I learned about the collodion process described by the inventor Frederick Archer in my photography class, and I came across works on the internet done with that technique. However, picking up the original in glass, I was amazed, above all, by the effect of a sense of presence. An animated face was looking at me. Later I learned that this is a direct consequence of long exposure, as a result of which the camera captures not a moment, but a piece of time, a piece of life passed. The model does not move for 8-10 seconds, but human breathing, invisible micro-movements of the eyes and skin, even their emotions and thoughts — all of this is captured on the glass.
I was also very impressed with the quality of the image. The widest black- and-white range, which cannot be found in the film nor the digital, the focus on the smallest details, the lack of grain partly explain the effect that occurs when looking at the ambrotype.
I couldn’t help but notice the side effects of the technology: the spreads of emulsions, the spots from micro-exposure, the scratches and little specs. In some cases it added an artistic flare to the work and in others, offered a special meaning.
I signed up for Sergei Romanov’s course but the classes were not enough for me. The teacher allowed me into his studio as an assistant. Then he began to evaluate my work and helped me find the necessary equipment. I was lucky: at one of the auctions, I bought a portable travel camera FKD 13×18 in original packaging, without the slightest trace of use. Looking at my first steps, Sergey Romanov gave me a very rare lens Emil Busch Anastigmat 5.5 / 255 mm, which is over 100 years old.
When I started working with ambrotypes, I realized that every image on glass is truly unique. You can easily print a multimillion-dollar run from digital or film. Ambrotypes can be scanned and copied, but the scan will not transfer the volume, the depth of the tones transitions left by the silver molecules. On the glass, however, the image will remain untouched forever, without burning out, fading or darkening. This is a feature of this technology. The term ambrotype is translated as an "immortal imprint”.
Besides, any good artist can copy someone else's work so that an amateur eye will not find any difference from the original. Ambrotype cannot be repeated even by the artist himself. If you accidently break the fragile original, there will never be another one like it. The technology just does not allow it. After all, many things influence the outcome: the temperature of the hands, fingers trembling, air fluctuations, emulsion thickness on the glass...
Compared to digital and film, ambrotype is the most expensive technology. Therefore, it requires a different mood, a different composure. At least, in order not to go broke buying chemicals. Before the photograph is taken, the image is carried out for a long time, thought out and born, sometimes, in great agony. It begins to haunt you, you dream about it at night, then it finalizes, but immediately disintegrates. In a word, this is the fate of those who are passionate about photography primarily as an art form.
Of course, the struggles of the creative process can be felt when working with digital and film. Honor and glory to such photographers. Modern technologies and skills allow you to maximize your idea in the final image, finalizing it on the computer. You do not have that luxury with ambrotypes, as nothing can be fixed on glass. Realizing this makes your approach completely different.
However, even when you have given it 100% and achieved everything possible from the model, you cannot predict the final result. If everything was done correctly, the embodiment of your idea will appear on the glass plate. This technology limits the control of a person. No matter how much you improve your skills, the result will depend on you by approximately one third. Two-thirds falls to chance.
Therefore, such co-authorship, in my opinion, is the most interesting. I wonder what forces other than the photographer and the model are involved in the creation of ambrotypes. I first vaguely felt their extraneous (or otherworldly) presence many years ago when printing my project "Escaping beauty". Now this feeling has returned, but on a different, much deeper level.
I realized that I do not like to work alone and do not want to strive to control everything. I like team effort: the photographer, the model and fate, which alters my ideas with higher energies.
"The more accidental, the more true" — wrote the young Boris Pasternak about how poems are born. Later he was echoed by Andrey Voznesensky "Poems are not written — they happen, like feelings or the sunset ...". It seems to me that ambrotypes have much in common with poetry. They also happen, instead of being created. Therefore, each of them is unique.