Last Wednesday after uploading my weekly post to WordPress I headed to my alternative process class forgetting something very important. That was the day we had a guest photographer coming to show us a demo of wet plate collodion. It was exactly the type of motivational 4 hours this jaded photographer needed.
We met the amazing Michael Kolster on the roof of a parking garage where he had his darkroom and camera set up for us. A teacher himself, he quickly put all of us nervous students at ease by encouraging us to walk around and look inside of his mobile darkroom. The more I talked with this guy the more I was impressed with his easy laid back approach to life and passion for photography.
Michael Kolster has only been doing collodion for five months. He started in June and was now giving us a demo on the process. I was impressed, especially since collodion is a very mysterious civil war era of photography that in the minds of many is only reserved for the masters of photography who know how to access the extensive training that must be required for one to be able to make ambrotypes. With the words, “I started about four or five months ago,” he destroyed the shroud of holiness and made collodion accessible to us all. You could see the looks of ‘I could so see myself doing this’ spread on to every student’s face.
While on the roof of the parking garage we were able to watch Michael make three successful images. Despite the dropping temperatures and the failing light it all worked out. He answered all our questions and had no hesitation in telling us about the times things went terribly wrong and what he was doing to make tweeks and adjustments to his process. We helped him break down his equipment and were both shocked and excited when we found out he was heading back to the school with us to talk more.
He talked a little bit more about his collodion but mostly about his Daily Post project. Everyday for the last 10years he has posted a photo on http://dailypost.bowdoin.edu/. The photos are a full range and don’t really have a consistency other then the fact that they show a quick second of Michael’s life. Some images show something as simple as what he ate that day and others show part of a series he is working on or finished that day. Talking about some of the challenges he faced with this project, he spoke on the challenges we all face as photographers and even as young adults in the world of facebook. How much of our private life do we give to the public? He made another comment about how surprised he is that friends all over the country think they know what is going on with his life because of the photos he puts on the site. Usually, they are way off from the truth.
I think what I was impressed with most is that all this guy had to do was walk us through the making of one image, thank us for having him, and then leave. Instead he walked us through three images (each image takes about 30 minutes to make), answered a steady stream of questions, did a slide show presentation, showed us some of the ambrotypes he has made over the summer, and then hung around till everyone had a chance to ask all of the questions they could think of. He spent about 5 hours at the school, plus he had three hours minimum of preparing for the day and about three hours of work for him when he got home. All of that just so he could share his awesome new way of making photographs with us. Its hard to argue it gets any more passionate then that.
“Only thing stopping you from doing it is your inability to imagine it.” – Michael Kolster