Photographer uses ‘antique’ photo technique to illustrate struggles of Native Americans
During the Dakota War of 1862, the United States government hung 38 members of the Dakota Indian Tribe in Mankato, Minnesota – the largest single-day mass execution in US history. A day after Shane Balkowitsch learned about this event – something most Americans have never heard of – he made the plate 'Death by Oil' (pictured above) using an antique photo process called wet plate collodion, which was first developed (no pun intended) in 1848.
The oil in the photo links the struggles of Native Americans in 1862 to the present time, in which they are again standing up to the US Government to protect their homeland. In this case, it is from the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline.
Wet plate photography requires subjects to sit still for long exposures, sometimes as long as 30 seconds. It involves applying a collodion emulsion onto a glass plate and sensitizing the plate for 3 minutes in a bath of silver nitrate, then taking the photo while the plate is still wet (which requires a portable darkroom). According to Balkowitsch, while the photos come out black and white, 'they capture real life more beautifully and romantically' and they will last for hundreds of years, unlike more traditional modern photographic prints. Balkowitsch is one of a very small group of photographers still using the collodion wet plate process and has made over 2300 plates since 2012.
Balkowitsch's full collection of wet plate photos is available for viewing online.