All images by Juro Kovacik. Used with permission.
Photographer Juro Kovacik was born in 1964 and studied photography at the Academy of Fine Art Bratislava in 1990, but left school after two years. Today, he work as an independent photographer focused on landscape photography. In the last couple of years he has been working exclusively with large format wet plates.
One of his most recent projects involves shooting with a Holga panoramic to create collodion images on plates. When one usually thinks about wet plate collodion projects, they think about large cameras. But this one isn’t so big at all.
Phoblographer: Tell us about the camera and how you converted it to shoot wet plates.
Juro: Holga panoramic is a cheap plastic camera, you can buy a new one for around $90. It shoots 6×12 cm panoramic images on 120 film. This Holga has a 90 mm F8 plastic lens, you can switch the aperture to F11. Shutter speed is 1/100 second and camera allows bulb exposure. Collodion for wet plates has a low sensitivity, something around 1 ISO, so I bought with the camera shutter release set.
Holga panoramic is wet plate ready, you just need cut aluminum plates. You can place them directly on the camera film holder. I just had to drill a hole for an L-shaped tripod plate – I knew, that I will use the camera a lot in the vertical position.
Phoblographer: How big are these plates?
Juro: For Holga panoramic, I’m cutting plates to 6.3 to 13 cm. Usually, I’m working with 18×24 cm cameras, so these Holga plates feel tiny. But, maybe because wet plate collodion is practically grainless, plates from the Holga camera are surprisingly intimate, attracting you to come closer and even closer, to dive into the picture.
And, from the beginning, I’ve wanted to build composed pictures from more plates. I call them sequences
Phoblographer: What gave you the idea to do this?
Juro: I think I was reading about wet plate photography and the Holga camera in connection with Ian Ruther, who used standard 6×6 Holga for portraits made with a flashlight. A few months ago I was talking about Holga camera with Barbara J. Dombach, she is also a wet plate photographer using 120N. And it was another wet plate photographer, Anton Orlov, who come with the idea, that as a landscape photographer I may appreciate panoramic model. Just now I realize that all three of them are from the United States.
Phoblographer: How do the plastic lens elements affect the image quality considering that this is so much different from film?
Juro: I was positively surprised. Because I’m not going to enlarge pictures, sharpness is not a problem and lens is producing well defined, clear and contrast pictures. There is a strong vignetting, but in the most cases it just help to define a picture. The only limit I really feel is aperture. In the open sunny country, I have to go with exposure to one second or even shorter and it is not easy to be consistent with these short times when you are making sequences.
Phoblographer: You’ve shot a couple of landscapes and flowers with this format so far. But what else are you interested in shooting with this setup?
Juro: I love works from the garden and landscapes are the core of my work. At the beginning of my Holga experience was a dream to return to High Tatras sierra, but this time with wet plates. I love wet plate landscapes, but with a large format there are obvious limitations. You need a huge portable darkroom and tens of kilograms of water, chemicals, and other equipment. So I want to build around Holga camera a lightweight solution, which would open mountains and other places with a limited access for my work again. And I have other ideas with Holga cameras, but maybe it is preliminary to talk about them.
Phoblographer: What is it like to shoot with this? Do you need to go develop the image right after you shoot it?
Juro: With wet plates, you have to prepare the plate in the field and expose and develop it until the plate is wet. These ornaments on the frames of plates made with Holga are residuals of this slow, time and resource consuming process. From time to time I ask myself, why to bother with wet plates, what is the point to do this kind of images.
For me, the magic of photography is not in the producing of never-ending copies of reality. I believe that the role of photography is to teach us how to see, how to understand, how to perceive the world around us.
When you look at the history of photography, there always was and always will be a strong relationship between a photographer’s and camera’s role in the process. Not just digitalization, but automation of photography shifted the main role from a photographer to the camera.
With wet plates, I make different pictures than I had made with a digital camera. Are wet plates more authentic, more truthful than digital pictures? I don’t know, maybe yes, maybe not. But I’m pretty sure, that they are more human.