Church at Ruidoso, Texas

Rendering The Spirit: Interview with Bruce Schultz

What is your name, and where are you from?
Bruce Schultz from Lafayette, Louisiana.

How did you get into photography as an art medium (as opposed to casual or professional use)?
I’ve always taken photographs for myself as an artistic expression, since the early 1970s.

I make images with wet-plate collodion to make tintypes on metal, or ambrotypes on glass, or glass negatives to make paper prints in the form of salt prints and albumen prints. I have one salt print and three albumen prints in this show, all from glass negatives.

What drew you to the specific media you practice?
I grew bored with making black and white images with film, printed onto factory-coated silver gelatin paper, something I had done for almost 40 years. As digital photography had emerged as the dominant means of making pictures, I regressed and sought out the basics of photography as it was first practiced. So I took a workshop in Missouri with wet plate photographer Bob Szabo in 2007.
Since then, I no longer shoot film. I make tintypes at civil war reenactments, and also photograph a wide range of subject matter from still lifes, landscapes and nudes. I’ve made images for movies (“Beautiful Creatures” and a remake of “The Magnificent Seven.”) And TV shows including “American Horror Story” and “Into the Badlands,” in addition to several CD covers.

How does the choice of media influence your choice of subject matter (or vice versa)?
Since my chosen process requires exposures of several seconds to minutes, action can’t be photographed but even that can be overcome if one is willing to invest in a high-powered, eyebrow singeing flash equipment. I will occasionally pay homage to 19th century images.

In today’s mobile, electronic world of instant communication and virtual sharing of images, how important is it to you to create hand-made images?
I’m not opposed to digital photography, and I use it in my career as a communications specialist, but digital imagery is too realistic, too perfect for my purposes. With wet-plate collodion, serendipitous flaws are inherent in the process. Fingerprints, smudges on the edges, specks of dust, bubbles, scratches, are inevitable and they make it obvious that this is a one-of-a-kind handmade image never to be repeated.

Is your choice to practice alternative, hand-made photography a reaction to, a complement to, or not influenced by the world of digital media?
I don’t really think about the digital realm, what I’ve done digitally or anyone else has done with a digital camera. I do often marvel that in the time span that I make one image with the wet-plate process, someone could shoot hundreds of pictures. Because of the labor and time involved to set up the chemicals and equipment, making an image with the wet-plate process is a deliberative effort. One has to make sure that what has caught their eye is truly worth the effort and time to make just one picture.

And I have to admit that I get some kind of rush from knowing that I’m making photographs the same way that the early photographers did, experiencing the same frustrations when things go wrong, and the same tingle of excitement when everything comes together. Using the same formulae and materials but with the benefit of modern technology like air conditioning in a darkroom and electric lights.

Do you incorporate digital media into your alternative process work?
I have made digital prints from my wet plate images, but they do not equal a print from a wet-plate negative and I no longer do that because the quality is inadequate.

If so, how do you incorporate it? Is it limited to mechanical reproduction technique, or does it inform/shape/influence the content of your work?
I want to learn to make digital negatives from tintypes to make albumen and salt prints. I am even willing to attempt using digital capture to generate a digital negative and from that, make albumen and salt prints, especially for images that I make while traveling abroad since flying on airplanes can’t be done with flammable chemicals and hundreds of pounds of equipment.

What role do you see for hand-made/alternative process work in the art world of today?
Sales of vintage photography have increased with higher and higher prices as buyers recognize the significance of photographs that have survived for more than a century..
Alternative process work has emerged as a significant movement as the art audience recognizes the effort and dedication required to generate these images. And shows like this one illustrate that more people are creating bodies of work based on handmade imagery.
That’s not to say that serious artistic expressions can’t be the product of digital capture, but so many images are being created digitally that we are being overwhelmed with snapshots fired in scattergun fashion. I’ve read that more photographs have been taken in the past 2 years than in the first 150 years of photography. I’m not sure how that figure was derived, but it is mind-boggling. But most of those images will never move beyond a phone or computer screen, and it’s expected that many will become lost in the progression of obsolescence.
It also troubles me that folks get so caught up in taking a snapshot or video that they don’t truly experience a moment for what it is. A photograph or video will never convey an experience. Credit photographer Sally Mann for expressing that notion in her book that memories are being supplanted by photographs of a slice in time, and not living in the moment and experiencing what is happening in a viewfinder and not actually in front of our eyes. Years from now, we will remember an event as it was, or does the photograph corrupt our memories? I know that I now cannot be sure if some of my earliest memories were what I recall, or what my father’s 8mm movies show.

Where do you see yourself in that world?
I have no idea. I’m too busy shooting pictures, mixing chemicals and coating paper for printing to worry about my miniscule impression on the art world.

Church at Ruidoso, Texas
Church at Ruidoso, Texas

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