The latest photographer and YouTuber for my interview series is Borut Peterlin. Borut is a Slovenian wet plate collodion artist who lives in a small village in rural Slovenia. His photographic tool of choice – wet plate collodion – was created almost 200 years ago. Something he uses with aplomb to create beautiful, haunting and thought-provoking images.
His YouTube channel is full of a wide variety of content; trips into the forests with his dog, Land Rover and ultra-large format camera, and he also covers the science, techniques and results of his 100% self-made and hands-on photographs and prints.
I am sure that you will enjoy this, I present to you Borut Peterlin!
RD: For anyone that hasn’t seen your channel, how would you describe it? What’s it all about?
BP: It’s about a man, in the middle of the forest, stuck deeply in an epic middle age crisis, trying to save the world by making art. And oh, there is also a cute dog and a wet plate mobile, so definitely something you must see!
RD: Why do you concentrate on such old techniques?
BP: Well, it is old, but it’s not obsolete, although it was invented about 170 years ago. What I mean is also a steam engine was invented more than 300 years ago and it still serves as the primary way to turn nuclear power into electricity. Just because we have roomba robots to vacuum clean the house, nobody throws away a broom as an old and obsolete tool.
I personally consider it a handmade photography, like pioneers were doing. From the science perspective, a wet plate collodion process is a much simpler process to make photographs, but a photographer needs to be really well educated in comparison to a photographer who uses a digital photography.
If I say it as a joke, the wet plate collodion process is a primitive photography process for very educated photographers and digital photography is a very advanced photography process for hmm… how should I say it politely, for …. for the rest of us!
But seriously, to answer the question, I am very skilled in digital photography and nowadays also video, but handmade photography is a meditation ritual for me. Meaning that if I want to create an ultra large format collodion negative (40x50cm) I will start working now and three days later I will have three collodion negatives…If I do all the steps correctly and if my concentration was sufficient, of course. The quality of your concentration is very obvious on the photograph created or not created.
In one word, it’s magic. Wet plate collodion magic! Three words! Four! Four words!
RD: Your home, the area where you live is absolutely beautiful – does it inspire you photographically?
BP: Oh, Straža in Slovenia is a small town of 3,000 people (maybe less) and here I have lived all my life. More than half of my life I felt very frustrated in a small town in the small country of Slovenia.
I went to study at Famu Academy in Prague, then I got a scholarship in Fabrica / United Colors of Benetton, Treviso, Italy and I’ve made postgraduate studies in London. In each and every place I got frustrated, and in the midst of this frustration, I remember very clearly to recognise the same frustration no matter where I went, what were the circumstances.
I caught my inner behaviour pattern by its tail and once it was correctly diagnosed, I could start to see this place as the centre of the world! Which it is, the centre of the world! But no more or less than the point where you are at this very moment. Every dot on the sphere could be defined as its centre! Basically I changed my attitude towards the circumstances and the frustration was gone. What you see in my vlogs is that self-realisation reflected in my photography and my videography.
I believe that if I would live in a concrete jungle of a city and I would accept it as part of who I am, I’m certain that I could do beautiful photographs. I know photographers who have done just that, photographed boring ugly urban landscape and made it beautiful in its own way in its own glory.
RD: Can you tell us something about A New Earth, your latest project?
BP: A New Earth project was brewing for a long time. At least a year before the pandemic. I love nature, I love being in nature, I love photographing nature, but I do not want to repeat the aesthetic of other masters of photography. I felt I can incorporate all the inspiration I feel towards Sally Mann, Ansel Adams, František Drtikol, Peter Župnik and others, to incorporate certain segments of their work and make something “truly unique”.
The “aha moment” came unintentionally in Berlin, at the Martin Gropius Bau. They were exhibiting the video installation of landscape artist Ana Mendieta. To be honest, I am not a fan of video art and I was never before interested in landscape art, but I visited the exhibition nonetheless because that gallery is a “holy art place” for me, I visit it every time I am there. Ana Mendieta’s story goes that she was interested in the primitive art of Maya and Inca civilizations, so she made few objects in the same manner, but it felt false to her, it was ornamental, didn’t had the authentic energy.
Then she realised that those ancient objects were not art as we know it, they were serving in rituals! So she started to perform rituals in nature and the documentation of the rituals was her art. The insight came that I am too focused on the image, that I am neglecting the path to the image, that the path is more important than the image. So I’ve started this project A New Earth, influenced by Eckhart Tolle‘s book and philosophy of Alan Watts.
I’m trying to create a mindset in which I’m making my own art and that includes spending a whole week deep in the forest, feeling the cold of the night, feeling the warmth of the sun, being soaked from rain, close encountering bears, worrying if that tick bite was carrying lyme disease bacteria, getting the thorns out, being hungry, being thirsty, being alive throughout!
Influenced by Ana Mendieta’s work, I’m making nude selfportraits in the forest, becoming part of the forest. I’m using an ultralarge format 40×50 cm (16×20″) camera and I’m making wet plate collodion negatives. From negatives I’ll make carbon prints on glass. On the spot where I take the photo I collect the fibers of wood, grains of soil, leaves, feathers and other materials and that material I’ll incorporate in the image itself.
I make my own materials from scratch, so I can manipulate the process from the beginning and the photograph will carry the materials that are in the image itself.
RD: Do you have any advice for someone wanting to use the same methods that you do?
BP: Yes, I do! It’s the best way to make a photographic image. That is my own opinion, but I have never met a person who would see these kinds of prints in person and would argue with that.
I don’t know, perhaps they are just polite, but I don’t think so. (Remember, you can make color carbon prints too!) Second advice would be, it’ll take you about 5 years to get to this point where I am now. I needed eight years.
Another tip, I am making a living of selling my art. Just from my website.
My dream came true! Eight years well invested, if you ask me!
rd: Your combination of technical skill and artistic vision is quite rare I think – which aspect do you prefer? Are you an artist first and a technician second, or what?
BP: Just like a musician must practice his instrument, incomparably longer to perform for an hour, so do I. I am an artist, knowing how much practice it is necessary to be able not to think about the process anymore and just create the image.
I’m preparing all the glass plates, mixing all the chemistry, reading all the notes, even repairing my old timer wet-plate-mobile, a Land Rover Series 3 from 1972. All this is practice, so I do not have to think about the process anymore and I make the plate if it’s -6C or +30C, all is good!
Is it necessary? Of course, who else would do it instead of me? Why don’t I choose a different medium? I have, many times, I’ve made many projects. For now, this is my choice. For the next one, who knows. Oh, by the way, I’m just as good in film and digital photography. I’m getting better and better even with video editing. It’s all part of my art path.
RD: Where does the name “Topshit” come from?
BP: There is ordinary and there is extraordinary, there is sh*t and there is topshit!
RD: (I always ask this) what is the future of analogue photography?
Oh, I think not only the future is bright for analogue photography, I dare to say it is the only future of photography. Remember what photography as a term means: “drawing with light”! Nowadays artificial intelligence is allowing photographers to manipulate images to the form of illustration and when they are finished, a computer draws an image on a paper.
Hypothetically if I would see an image on the screen and draw it on the paper with exactly the same quality as an inkjet printer does, would you dare to call it a photograph? If not, why do you call a computer drawing – a photograph, what’s the difference? Where does a “drawing with light” come in this process?
Don’t get me wrong, I think digital photography is great, but I think it’s less and less photography and more and more illustration. Which is great, why not?!
Just let’s differentiate between photography meaning drawing with light and a computer drawing.
RD: Thank you Borut for giving me so much of your time, and responding in English for me!
I think that this interview is one of my favourites of this series so far because of the uniqueness of Borut’s work, attitude, approach and location. Borut is a driven artist who is supremely confident in his own world and knows exactly what he is doing and why he is doing it, I love that, and to be perfectly honest I envy it too.
Do you know of anyone using unusual methods or rare materials in their photography? Let me know in the comments, especially if they have a YouTube channel, and I will do my best to interview them.
The community needs you. If you’d like to take part in this series of film photographer interviews, please drop us a line or get in touch in the comments. We’re featuring to photographers young and old; famous and obscure, so get in touch and let’s talk.