by Editor Yvette Leur
Please introduce yourself to the readers, Peter.
My name is Peter van Hal and I am a collodion photographer from The Netherlands.
When I started photography back in my late teens I didn't succeed in creating the images the way I portrait them in my mind so I stopped photographing for a while. I had a few different careers being a hairdresser, A&R, Artist manager and music programmer.
After seeing a documentary by Sally Mann, everything just seemed to click. Finally I knew what I had to learn. What I had been seeing in my visions. During that time I was at a crossroad in life where I needed to make some decisions. Just being diagnosed with diabetes I had to make a shift from my old life I became a collodion photographer! This was seven years ago. Everything just seemed to fell into place.
It is 2017 now and I have been living, learning and loving this very delicate and fascinating process with many trials and errors along the way. Over the years I have build a solid portfolio but I am never fully satisfied. Focusing on just one aspect is difficult for me. I like doing lots of different styles within my style of photography. Portraits, Macro's, Fine Art, Landscape, everything is possible if you set your mind to it. My techniques and materials recently changed a little because of rheumatics. It manly effected my fingers, so working with glass became problematic. You have to prepare the glass by polish it real thoroughly before using. That is to labour intensive for me now. And that's very unfortunate, because I love the scratches and spots in the glass. It always made this material so much more interesting.
How would you describe your photography style?
Emotional with a rough edge, pretty pure and raw.
I don't want to give the viewer the impression that the photograph's were made in the 1860's when this process was first introduced. For me it's a way to present my work. The photograph itself has to reflect the now and the future. Creating my images pure, in the thrill of the moment works best for me. Not with a thoroughly thought out plan. Just start and work with what I've got in that place and time.
For example, double exposures. I like working with little pieces of plastic I find on the street. Or transparent tape I can stick together and pull apart so new structures unfold. I start by making a portrait with the right exposure time. The plastic I have found I enlarge and then project the new image over the original portrait and then see what happens.
Most of the time it guarantees a fascinating new image. I have also experimented with setting the film on fire or putting different chemicals in the bath.
Once during a workshop there was a real interesting quiz. We were asked what one could do with a simple paper-clip. Most people just said, hold pieces of paper together. But there were also people who could think of the craziest things to do with such a little piece of metal. Like making a tool out of it or just throwing it away. It showed me that the way you think does not has to be perfect of logical.
With digital photography these days there's no room for imperfections. That makes the work kind of soulless to me. A lot of photographers are totally wrapped up in their everlasting journey to perfection. For me it is just the opposite. I search for imperfections, without losing control over the process. I have to be able to remember and repeat. Generally speaking men seem to have more trouble creating new and different ideas then woman. For me it's all about the feelings, thoughts and emotions. Less control over the technical aspects. There is a large risk when something seems to work for you. When you know what results to aspect, you tend to automate. I want to let go of that feeling and keep experimenting and try new things.
Are you photographing full time?
With some difficulty, yes I am.
How did you train your skills? School? Workshops?
I trained myself by making huge mistakes. Some of these mistakes amazed me and made me very happy. I once attended a workshop at Jeroen de Wijs, other than that, I learned and developed my style by trial and error. I've been fortuned enough to have Luther Gerlach a collodion photographer based in the US over a couple of times, he has been an major influence. Mainly I just figured things out by trying, experimenting. Pouring plates, investing money, making mistakes, throwing a lot of pictures in the bin and keep developing my skills. Every time I did not plan things trough thoroughly, the magic happened and interesting results appeared. I've learned to give myself time to search for the right results.
Where did your passion for creating images in this form of photography come from?
By coincidence, like I said, the Sally Mann documentary.
What makes you the happiest when it comes to photography and/ or preparation?
To balance on the edge of the possibilities of the chemicals. Often it results into a fascinating photograph. It's a kind of strange and messy work process. Coincides is a big part of my workflow. The most crazy shit can happen when you allow it to arise. Sometimes it goes terribly wrong, other times the magic just appears. This process really allows you to see it happen. It keeps amazing me.
Are there parts you don't like as much?
I can sometimes curse out the whole process. Your hands and clothes always get dirty from the chemicals. My fingers are always stained with brown and black marks from the silver solutions.
Everything has a part in the whole process of colodion photography. Preparation, Developing, Fixing, one simply doesn't work without the other. Especially when you have real high hopes, things can completely fail. The temperature in a room, moody daylight, wrong mixtures of chemicals, things like that can really throw you of.
What's important to you. The story? The emotion? The technical skills?
Emotion. Technique is really important to, but more of a second thought in my work ethic.
The end result is one image only. One photograph that can last for 100 years. All the aspects and characteristics come together in one single try. If I doesn't work, you have to start all over again.
Give that a try with your digital camera! One shot only to make an image that captures the viewer, invites to take a second look and convert an emotion. Technique, passion, coincidence, communication, imperfection, everything has to flow as one in one single click. That is not an easy task to master.
Can you describe your photography and development process to the readers?
*A collodion solution needs to be made on the forehand.
*When you are ready to start making your image you pour the solutions over a clean aluminium plate or glass
*This plate is placed in a silver bath.
*The silver parts will attach to the collodion and this process makes the plate light sensitive.
*In a darkroom the prepared plate is placed in a plate holder.
*This plate holder is placed into the camera.
*The photographer takes the picture.
*The plate is taken back to the dark room were a negative is developed by pouring developer over the plate.
*By using a fixation solution the negative turns into a positive.
*The plate will be finished with a mixture of tree resin and natural oils.
The camera process is camera obscura so the end result is a mirrored image.
When done properly, the final photograph can be kept for many generations.
What creative solutions do you use when things don't work out?
This mainly works for daylight or some the chemicals. Every other aspect has to be perfect from the start.
What creative solutions can you use when the mixtures and solutions do not cooperate.
Your basic chemicals just have to be just right. The silver solution and film resolution.
Developer and light are pliable.
Please show us 3 of you photographs that you are really proud of and please describe why?
In the field, in the moment. Nothing is perfect yet the whole feel is perfect for me. It has a surreal atmosphere like Eve walking in paradise...or maybe not....
I never really plan something, have vague ideas and just start shooting. Saw the bull lying around and created this. Very happy with it!
For many this photo is about surrender, not for me though. I was attracted to the fear in the donkey's eye.
Do you have photographs of other artist you really admire you would like to share with the readers?
David John Lotto, Ken Merfeld, Luther Gerlach are just a few that come to mind.
Can you tell me about your camera gear and the chemical products you need?
I don't have any respect for my camera gear. Use lenses with issues that nobody wants to have. I am not a collector, I am a user. Would like to print my next photographs with a 3D printer.
My camera gear:
9 inch Petzval Lens from 1855 – F3.8 I found this lens in an old box on a photo festival. It cost me 20 euros. My favourite lens, the one I used in a lot of my images is a Hermagis Petzval lens from 1870 - 12 inch. This one cost me 100 euros. The camera boxes are wooden. Have a 10x12 and a 12x15inch camera at the moment.
These last couple of years the prices of items used for collodion photography just about sky rocketed. Mainly because popular demand. In some cases prices went up from 500 to 1000%. A lens that was offered for about 100 euros a few years ago, now easily will sell for 1200 euros. Collodion Photography is very popular these days.
Eighty percent of all photographers is mainly interested in techniques. Their goal is perfection. How it's 'supposed' to be done. To me that is simply boring. I need innovation, fresh concepts and ideas. I need to keep experimenting and learning new skills. My goal is to be completely amazed by my own work.
How do you work best? Full team? Solo?
I work best with my partner Hiske. She helps me out with the business side and assists me like no other can.
The Professional Side
Can you tell us some of your highlights? (Album covers, exhibitionist etc.)
In the last years I was able to do Album covers for Dutch artists like Frank Boeijen, Douwe Bob and Drives Like Marie. I did a series of photographs for Dutch Newspaper De Volkskrant. And every year I am backstage at pop festivals such as Lowlands. Also just worked 4 weekends at Photo festival Naarden.
Last year we did a crowd funding for a new Bus. This way I can photograph every place I want. I travel the country with all the gear in my new van. But basically, every good result is a highlight in my opinion. Every happy customer is a highlight.
Are there any workshops or exhibitions in the near future? Places where people can see you at work?
This summer I will be taking my collodion bus to many pop and photography festivals. I also do a lot of portrait days where we show up with our bus and do portraits only. Art festivals and photo festivals for example.
What would you like to say to the readers? Tip/Quote?
Take a step outside the paved roads. Challenge yourself. Keep looking for new ideas.
Go out and find yourself. Ask yourself: What do I want? What do I want to show others?
Keep asking questions! Make mistakes!