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I Make Photographs — Pierre Van de Vliert

August 31, 2015

About a year ago I had realized that photography no longer gave me the satisfaction it used to give. As a digital photographer I mainly focused on studio portraits and corporate photography. Unfortunately, the fact that the majority of my customers actually just wanted good standard pictures for the lowest possible price began to bother me more and more often. There was hardly any room for creativity anymore.

I have always photographed digitally and in an attempt to rediscover the pleasure and challenge in photography I decided to search for it in the basics — analog photography. I built myself a small darkroom made from free stuff and items from the thrift store. I started out with a 35mm camera, shortly followed by medium format.

From the moment I developed my very first roll of film it became clear to me that I was on the right track. That was apparently what I was looking for and it felt fantastic! Due to the fact that shooting film and working in the darkroom gave me much more satisfaction, I decided to take it one step further and started making dry plate glass negatives coated with handcrafted emulsions. I'm enjoying every step in the overall process of it. Making and testing the emulsion, glass cutting and cleaning, coating the plates, shooting, making developer and fixer, developing and finally making a beautiful contact print from the negative. The slow pace of all these steps makes me work with much more attention than before and makes me feel much more involved with every single photograph I take.

During a digital portrait shoot, I maybe took up to 100 images within half an hour. While shooting, I was already thinking about editing, post production and which Photoshop actions I would apply. When I'm making a dry plate portrait, the session will be at least two hours and within that time we probably make two or three negatives. Thanks to the slow process, both the portrayed and I are more or less forced to slow things down and really take the time to make a beautiful photograph together. This also makes me much more aware of what I'm actually photographing and assures that I'm 100% focused on what I'm doing at that moment. I absolutely love working like this!

Because people see how much time, work and dedication is involved in making a glass negative — from emulsion making to contact printing — they realize it's really a craft and have much more appreciation for the physical contact print they end up having in their hands.

The truly wonderful reaction I get from people when they come along in the darkroom and see their portrait emerge from the developer is one I've never had on one single digital print.

I'm very pleased that I rediscovered the pleasure and satisfaction in photography, in a large extent thanks to dry plate glass negatives. Now I realize that before I was actually more of an image maker than a photographer. The final image was only good enough for me after elaborate post-production on the raw digital file. Of course, there's absolutely nothing wrong with this, and I'm sure I will use this approach from time to time. But it's only now I feel I can really say: I'm a photographer, I make photographs...

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