Everyone should take a road trip — a real, cross-country road trip — at least once. Whether you choose to set out on a road adventure during the beautiful summertime or, like we did, during the dead of a winter storm, be sure to make a few impromptu stops along the way. Thomas Gibson Studio set out on a road trip to upstate New York a few weeks ago to pick up a much-anticipated custom-made collodion wet-plate camera from our friend Stephen of Rochester. Nearly 900 miles away from home, my wife Sherilyn and I decided to take some time to take in the sights at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. If you’ve never been and you have even the slightest appreciation for art — be it Warhol’s “Pop Art” or beyond — you should put viewing the pieces at the Warhol Museum on your to-do list. From a fine artist’s standpoint, visiting the Warhol Museum was both inspiring and uplifting. The museum houses seven stories of Warhol’s work, from his early abstract experimental films to his eclectic thrift store collections to his early sketches — which became iconic masterpieces — for major publications. It was a phenomenal experience. No matter whether you’re a fine artist, photographer, student or someone who just appreciates innovation and creativity, everyone will gain a new perspective on life and art by visiting the Warhol Museum.
Warhol’s influence on American art in the past 50 years is evident. His bold techniques — from blending silk screens with photography and painting — were way ahead of his time. Some may say that Warhol’s style was too simplistic or obvious, but that’s the irony in the work — from the marriage of commercially popular styles with a raw, blatant edge, he created pieces so catching, so unique, that they practically begged for attention — in a good way.
In addition to Warhol’s influence on the entire fine art community, his influence on my personal artistic vision is vast. The ideas of blending mediums in an unpredictable yet beautiful manner, with a daring sense of unpredictability and subtle charm, carried over into my personal fine art style — including my work with collodion wet-plate photography. I find that my own artistic process with collodion wet-plates mimics Warhol’s hands-on screening process. In collodion wet-plate photography, I produce plates, pour and mix the solutions, stage the shot, process it and varnish it. The process is repetitive, yet yields stunning new images that are obviously stylishly connected, yet can stand on their own as independent, one-of-a-kind pieces.
After we wrapped up at the Warhol Museum, we finished the last five hours of our 1,200-mile trip and made it up to Rochester, where we met our good friend Stephen and our new friend … the beautiful, cherry wood wet-plate camera. Stephen usually takes four to five months to craft a camera; I can say without doubt that he is one of the best custom-camera makers in the U.S.
Though I have experience with wet-plate photography, shooting with a new camera always reinvigorates the creative process. From getting a better feel for a fresh, custom-made collodion wet-plate camera to finding the perfect spot for it in my rural Kansas studio, I love making my way around a new piece of equipment and seeing how working with something I can truly call my own helps enliven my energy. With this new wet-plate camera, I’ll be shooting my new series, “Living Legends.” This new camera is sure to become a legend at Thomas Gibson Studio. In addition to this beautiful new camera, I'll also have to invest in a scissor lift-type of equipment to enable me to travel with it and be able to also raise the camera higher and lower.
The shots of energy from visiting the Warhol Museum and finally meeting my new wet-plate photographer primed me for the last part of my winter road trip: a salt printing class with France Scully Osterman.
Salt printing goes hand-in-hand with the collodion wet-plate photography process that I’ve been perfecting for years. A salt print, or a salted paper print, is a photographic printing paper that is coated with a salt solution and a silver nitrate solution. The amount of hands-on work with the salt printing process is incredible. While I understand that most mainstream, digital photographers who may be unfamiliar with the process could see this process as tedious and time-consuming — can’t photo-editing software achieve the same effects? — the beauty in salt printing photography is achieved by the perfect balance of imperfection; the right amount of exposure to light, drying time and patience can produce an image so ethereal and emotional it simply cannot be replicated digitally. These types of prints require a time commitment — at least a full day — as well as an emotional commitment. The work flourishes even more when it’s obvious it’s been created with ample time and heart — and with that, the pieces could hold their own in specific gallery shows.
At France’s quaint home gallery and studio, she welcomed us with a wealth of salt print training and information. I’ll be sharing more details of France’s salt-printing lesson — including quick smartphone pictures and handout tutorials — on the blog in coming weeks.
What are your experiences in salt printing? Where would you go if you had a chance to take a cross-country road trip? What pit stops would you make on the way? Tell me about it in the comments section.