American "wet plate collodion" artist Shane Balkowitsch recently had the chance to make several portraits of Swedish environmental activist and 2019 Nobel Peace Prize nominee Greta Thunberg during her visit to North Dakota in support of indigenous groups fighting the Dakota Access oil pipeline.
Many in the Standing Rock tribe consider the pipeline a threat to the region's clean water and ancient burial grounds. The shoot took place at Standing Rock, ND where Thunberg was being honoured by tribal leaders for her work to fight climate change.
During the closing ceremony, Thunberg was named 'Maphiyata echiyatan his win' which translates as 'woman who came from the heavens'.
Shane Balkowitsch's shoot with Thunberg coincides with the publication this month of his first monograph, Northern Plains Native Americans: A Modern Wet Plate Perspective, published by Glitterati Editions. It presents a selection of images from his long-term photographic project that aims to capture a thousand wet plate portraits of Native Americans.
Following in the footsteps of Edward S. Curtis and Orlando Scott Goff, Balkowitsch pays homage to his home state and its Native American heritage and culture. His photographs highlight the dignity of his subjects, depicting them not as archetypes, but individuals of contemporary identities with historical legacies.
In his essay in the book, Balkowitsch writes about this Victorian photographic method which dates back to the nineteenth century. "Each image contains not only the moment it was captured but the time in which it was taken, too. People are willing to hold their breath, focus their eyes and still their thoughts for the 10 seconds necessary to make an exposure. Each exposure contains a piece of eternity. In essence, people willingly give me a little part of their lives to be photographed in collodion."
As one of the fewer than 1,000 wet plate collodion artists practising around the world, Balkowitsch carries on the tradition of the Victorian photographic method, which dates back to the 19th century. Based in Bismarck, North Dakota, Balkowitsch established the first natural light wet plate studio constructed in the entire country in over 100 years. Discover more at sharoncol.balkowitsch.com.
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