Into the Ether Contemporary Collodion Work

MAIN GALLERY: 7.18.08 – 8.8.08


Come see this landmark West Coast exhibition featuring the work of 10 of the greatest contemporary collodion artists to ever coat a plate. Both ambrotypes (one-of-a-kind images made on glass) and ferrotypes, or tintypes (one-of-a-kind images made on thin metal plates) will be exhibited. The photographers come from a wide variety of backgrounds and pursue a wide range of subject matter, but they are united in their choice of process and their passion for this technique that renders some of the most exquisite photographs ever seen.

In 1978, John Coffer hitched a bay workhorse named Brownie up to a 19th century style darkroom wagon dubbed the “Photographic Van” and criss-crossed the continent for seven years, plying his trade as an old time traveling portrait photographer. This was an experience as unique as the many tintypes he made and sold along the way. In 1985, after more than 11,000 wagon miles and having passed through 36 different states, John and his horse, Brownie, settled down on their own 50-acre farm in the heart of the beautiful Finger Lakes country of up-state New York. John lives in a one-room cabin that he built himself. He lives off the land and has no phone, no electricity, no automobile, and no running water. There, Coffer photographs the livestock, the farm implements, and the annual cycles of nature. RayKo will be showing selections from his Daily Tintypes series; each reveals various aspects of the artist’s existence.

Will Dunniway has been an American history re-enactor for 25 years. It was while re-enacting the 125th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, that Will watched with fascination as John Coffer and Claude Levet worked their collodion magic. As a serious historian, professional designer and photographer, Will knew he was watching the perfect blend of his interests and abilities. He talked with John and in the summer of 1990 apprenticed under him and the late Claude Levet. Since 1990, Will has practiced the art of collodion primarily on the West Coast working in Gold Rush, Old West, and Civil War events.

N. W. Gibbons is a photographic artist and life-long resident of Westport, CT. He has worked in large format non-digital photographic media since the mid-1970s, and most recently has produced work using a number of different 19th century photographic processes. Mr. Gibbons creates very large tintypes and ambrotypes, both as single images and also in diptych and triptych formats. He makes cityscapes and landscapes in lower Fairfield County and nearby New York State, most recently working on an extended project documenting the surprising natural beauty of the Bronx River.

Robb Kendrick, now living in central Mexico, uses the tintype process and other historical techniques in conjunction with collected audio and video to create one-of-a-kind pieces that incorporate other experiences for the viewer. This allows not only for unique photographs, but also forms memories of the experiences he’s had by engaging the subject in other ways. In the end, it becomes an intimate collaboration that connects him to the people he photographs. His most recent wet plate project documents the working cowboy in 14 Western States, Mexico and Canada for the December 2007 issue of National Geographic. The images are collected in a new book, Still: Cowboys at the Start of the 21st Century. At RayKo, Robb will also be showing some surprises that no one else has ever seen!

Quinn Jacobson works exclusively in the wet plate collodion process and has developed his own style and methodology for making plates. Quinn also teach workshops and has published a full-color illustrated manual called The Contemporary Wet Plate Collodion Experience. He currently lives and works in Germany and is working on a new project that’s an extension of his Portraits of Madison Avenue work, but on a larger, more comprehensive scale. Quinn plans to publish and exhibit the work when it’s completed in 2009 or 2010, hence we’re getting a sneak preview of his plates here in San Francisco.

Kerik Kouklis specializes in the hand-made photograph. Born and raised in California with a background in music and geology, he strives to combine a contemporary eye with 19th century processes to produce work that is uniquely his own. Influenced by the Pictorialists of the early 20th century, Kerik often uses diffused focus lenses to explore obscure, little-known places and make images that can be at once calm and unsettling. In 2004 he learned the wet plate collodion process from Will Dunniway and it has become an integral part of his current work. Kerik began teaching wet plate collodion in 2006.

Michael Shindler teaches wet plate classes at RayKo Photo Center in San Francisco. Michael had formerly worked exclusively in the studio, but then he got inspired and built his own portable darkroom and got on a plane. He is in Peru at this moment and if the customs agents in Lima let him get the silver nitrate into the country, he could be exhibiting something completely new and different!

Joni Sternbach has concentrated on locations that are close to or directly on the water. At this juncture between land and sea, she explores subject matter in a constant state of transition. For the last year she has been drawn to the people present at these locations, specifically the surfers in Montauk’s Ditch Plains, at the eastern end of Long Island. The surfers act as a bridge between the sea and the shore line. Working with a “wet” instantaneous process that must be prepared and developed on location serves her well. It draws spectators as well as entices new subjects. Using collodion compels Joni to compose carefully before sensitizing the plate, yet its very nature is spontaneous and unknowable.

Ellen Susan is a photographer who lives in Savannah, Georgia. Her current Soldier Portraits project documents members of the U.S. Army based in Southeast Georgia using the wet collodion process, producing both ambrotypes and aluminum tintypes. The majority of the subjects have deployed to Iraq 1 to 3 times since 2003. The work has been shown in Boston and New Orleans, and appears in a solo show at the Blue Sky Gallery in Portland, Oregon in July of 2008. Her newest project consists of still lifes of Mardi Gras costumes from New Orleans.