Artists of the Week: Casey & Niki Carlin, Black Glass Studios

At Black Glass Studios we are a husband and wife team of photographers, Casey and Niki Carlin, but with a difference as will be explained. We have both recently successfully completed degrees in photography, each working as independent artists with great success ranging from publications, exhibitions and artist talks etc. Through feedback, a regular theme kept emerging, people who appreciated our work kept asking for both of us to offer portraits to the general public. After some careful consideration we decided to add portrait commissions to the list!

Whilst we have no disdain for the digital medium, we both have a preference for alternative and historical forms of photography. Rather than striving for the clinical perfection achievable by digital means, the hand crafted nature of the images we make allows us to build layers of narrative into the images themselves, giving our clients the opportunity to approach the photographic image in a completely different way.

The main way we achieve this is through our preferred medium – wet plate collodion, often shortened to ‘wet plate’ or just ‘collodion’. This is a Victorian photographic technique pioneered in the 1850s which gives a very unique image with depth and an almost three-dimensional quality. The images are photographed straight onto glass or metal and are direct positives, meaning that there is no negative with which to create a print, the Victorian cameras that we use have no internal mirrors like their modern counterparts so the resulting picture is always a mirror image of ‘real’ life, remember the controversy over whether Billy The Kid was a left or right handed shooter – confusion created by the reversed nature of the photograph! (He was right handed).

One of the biggest challenges of the process is the fact that each plate must be prepared, shot and processed whilst the chemistry is still wet (hence the name) meaning that the photographer and the subject must remain in close proximity to the dark room, for this reason we are mainly studio based although we do have a portable dark room that enables us to get out and about when required.

By its very nature artefacts and anomalies are often present within the images, we manipulate this to add depth, meaning, context and visual interest to the images. This is a direct result of the process, at each stage just making very minor adjustments can have very major effects. The result is a bespoke, one off image that is all but impossible to reproduce; scans and digital photos of the plates just cannot capture the depth and beauty contained within the image. The glass/metal plates have a tactile quality that is hard to ignore and each image becomes an ‘object’ in its own right, something that we feel digital photography just can not do.

When you think back to The Wild West or American Civil War images, chances are these are wet plate images and there are a good number of collodion photographers who prefer to remain historically correct and faithful to the antiquated process. We, however, are not amongst them. Whilst we use antique cameras and lenses and keep to authentic recipes for chemistry, we prefer to keep an open mind to contemporary twists and subject matter.

Image 2The bespoke nature of work we produce blurs the line between photography and art and has led to numerous collaborative projects. A number of artists have enlisted us to document their work in a unique and interesting way whilst others have invited us to work in a more direct collaboration. Most recently artist, Jeni McConnell enlisted our creative services to document a project ’30 Instruments Loaned by Ladies’ commissioned by the Harris Museum in Preston, the images produced were initially for a book to accompany the exhibition but the glass plates became an integral part of the project, eventually becoming part of the exhibition themselves. The exhibition culminated in an artist talk at the Harris Museum in which Niki played an important part. All of the glass plates have now moved to The Godfrey Pilkington Gallery (at St.Helen’s World Of Glass) as part of their ‘Artists and Archives’ exhibition that runs from 16 November – 11 January 2014.

We are based at Hazlehurst Studios in Runcorn, a vibrant hub for local artists providing studio space and a melting pot of creative ideas. Black Glass Studios is one of only a handful of places in the UK which offers collodion photography, we also provide demonstrations and talks to a number of educational institutions and local community groups and get involved with community art projects whenever possible.

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