It’s an absolute pleasure to welcome you all to join me falling into the words and work of a rather rare beast. Street photographer and more than just a dab hand with wet plate collodion, Markus is someone you’re certain to want to learn more about.
Over to you, Markus…
Hi Markus, what’s this picture, then?
MH: I travelled around the world with my Mamiya 645E show how beautiful and different people can be. Alias “the self-made Indian” is I one of the people I met during my journey in Seattle. He has sat on the same spot for the last 30 years. I was there with him for two days and I enjoyed his company a lot. Most of what he is wearing in the picture, he made himself.
Normally I choose black and white film only when color makes no sense for me. This time I chose it because he likes it and it fits his story. He carries a black and white photograph of Sitting Bull with him and after I came back to Austria I managed to send him his own picture, so now he owns one of himself too. You can read more about him on my blog.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
MH: I’m a guy who fought a lot to lose weight and get healthy. I’m a former pool player, that training and the mental part of it changed me a lot. This taught me that only honesty to yourself can improve who you are, and you are the only one who can change things for yourself – if you blame others for things that go wrong, you take yourself the chance to fix this.
I’m a DIY guy who fixes and modifies a lot of things by himself. I’m not easily pleased with my photography – there is often something I want to improve, or I think I can make better next time. There is always something going on in my mind about a next possible project or idea, this keeps me sometimes awake at night.
Life is beautiful, even at the times when it seems to be not because these moments make the others count even more (it’s good to be sad sometimes 🙂
A lot of my photography is self-taught. Additionally, I read books, talk with fellow photographers and attend workshops. I shoot 35mm, medium format and large format film. Ultra Large Format is no stranger for me either, but only for collodion wet plates.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
MH: I started my career with a Canon EOS 40D in 2009 and I travelled around the globe to shoot pool tournaments. Later I got my own studio and focused on portraits, weddings (and other events) and virtual tours. I think it was in 2013 when I wanted to slow down and bought a Mamiya 645E.
I never imagined what I would get myself into with that purchase. I travelled around many countries to take portraits of strangers with this camera. I still do today.
From that Mamiya I went to a Linhof Master Technika 4×5 – also to shoot portraits on the street. I was obsessed with this project and I loved the fact that it takes time to get everything right. I learned to know my favorite films and what I can get out of them.
It is kind of a restricting thing and I mean that in a good way. For example, I look out of the window and see grayish weather outside. So, I take my Mamiya, an 80mm lens and a roll of ILFORD PAN F Plus 50 with me on a walk. Right after these three decisions, I don’t have to think about color, black and white, or on wide angle shots. I just take pictures when it makes sense.
I just like limitations in that way somehow. For example, I did a studio shoot with an iPhone for a magazine once. After adjusting every strobe to the dynamic range of the phone’s sensor, I got some cool results out of this tiny sensor too.
After I felt comfortable shooting with the large format camera, it was obvious to me I must take the next step.
The idea of making my own film was fascinating for me, so I went to wet plate collodion. I also liked the process; that I have to work more with my hands to get things going. By the way, is also nice that you see the image after about 10 minutes (for the people who can’t wait). I started with a premixed collodion kit and no knowledge or any information about wet plates. I tried to mimic the process from YouTube videos, something which caused only black plates for weeks. Somehow, I got it to work and it was only then that I bought a book from Quinn Jacobson to understand what is actually happening during the process. I should have done that at the beginning, that would have saved tons of time. After reading the book and writing to Quinn, I started to mix all my chemicals by myself and the results got better and better. I also purchased a 30x40cm “Reisekamera”, which I modified a lot, to get clean plates out of it.
After getting clean 30x40cm (12×16”) wet plates out of the camera, I focused more and more on the subject instead of the process. That’s when I figured, that my favorite plate sizes are 13×18 and 18x24cm plates. My weapon of choice is a modified 100 year-old dry plate camera with a Dallmeyer Petzval 210mm f/3 lens. Wet plates have an eager need of light, that’s the reason I bought a powerful Hensel flash generator to get my portraits done with one pop. With this combination, I can shoot normal portraits, as you would do with a film or digital camera.
Photography is about experience. Smelling the chemicals (lavender oil at the end), feeling the light and sitting in front of a 100 year-old wooden box with a brass tube sticking out of the front. This is exactly the experience that my customers will remember for a very long time.
I like the whole process of analog photography, it slows me down. To focus manually and measure the exposure for a specific film in combination with the waiting for the development is exciting and lots of fun for me.
As mentioned already, I also like the limitation film and the collodion wet plate process forces me into. And are also the haptics and sounds of an old camera that gives me goosebumps sometimes. Also, the option to modify and repair lots of things by myself makes me happy.
Going back to experience photography from its roots is something that helps me to understand it better and gives me more options, too. Just see it like you have a quiver with arrows for different purposes on your back. Every time I face a new photography challenge, I look back to this quiver to see if there is an arrow that fits it.
The marks on the border were done on purpose by not cleaning the plate holder – I had to get this lens working by cleaning off the fungus with an acid mixture.
I am a big fan of preparation. I like to prepare everything in my head for days, maybe weeks or even longer, before it comes to the shoot. There are so many ideas in my head I want to bring to life.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
MH: Not easy to answer. There was a friend of my mother’s friend (Heinz), he was a photographer. This was when I was little, he took a portrait of me one day and I liked it a lot (those days I did not like pictures of me that much). I also remembered a picture of a rose he made that fascinated me. I think this was the first bump.
In 2001 I realized that the TV Show “Six Feet Under” influenced me about how I see images. Later I stumbled over the Afghan girl from Steve McCurry. This caused me to buy books of his work. I love the work of Pete Souza, this is how I imagine a photo reportage should be done. I’m pretty active online and find there also tons of photographers that inspire me a lot, like the work of Marcin Wajda or Sagi Kortler. There are so many good photographers out there!
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
MH: Analog photography is just another flavor that I am adding to my portfolio. I never want to limit myself just to this one kind of photography. I realized this during a TV interview when they asked me if I could imagine just sticking with collodion wet plates. I started to stutter and figured I like photography so much, that I don’t want to limit myself to one specific process.
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For many assignments, I use digital because it’s what the customer wants. Business portraits, weddings and virtual tours for example. I shoot often tethered to my Macbook or iPad, so the customer can see the result immediately.
What’s your next challenge…your next step? How do you see yourself improving your technique? What aspect of your photography would you like to try and master in the next 12 months?
MH: In November 2018, I visited a stereo photography exhibition in Vienna. The idea of taking 3D images fascinated me. That’s why I am working on an Ultra Large Format Stereo Wet Plate camera right now.
First, I read a book about stereo photography. It was important for me to know how to create plastic 3D images. After that, I knew that the lenses must be moveable on the lens board. To get two historical lenses, that will focus the same is a bit like playing a lottery. But I overcame this issue already. I’ve already bought all the stuff I need in a DIY market and now I’m waiting for time to put everything together.
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to?
MH: Why? Obviously, I love to shoot portraits.
The more detail and story a face is telling me, the more I’m interested to capture it. Give me all the wrinkles, freckles and beards you have. With the wet plate collodion process, I capture blue light, that means every red part gets dark and blue parts are bright.
That is another reason why I like this process so much. It brings so much detail out of a person, that would be lost otherwise. I think all humans are beautiful, interesting and have a story that a portrait will tell – this is what I want to show with my portraits.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
MH: This is a tough one… I would go for a single wet plate. If it really has to be film, I would choose the Kodak Portra 800. I like the skin tones out of this film and the possibility to shoot at night.
You have 2 minutes to prepare for an unknown assignment. You can take one camera, one lens, two films and you have no idea what you’ll be shooting. What do you take with you and why?
MH: This is easy for me. My Canon EOS-3 with two custom rolls of the Kodak Cine Film (My lab cuts this film, puts it into canisters and uses the original Kodak mixture to develop it). I can shoot the film from ASA 500 to 1600 and my lab can color correct it from 3000 Kelvin up to 6000. I would bring my Canon 50mm f/1.2 and the Canon 35mm f/1.4
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location for the rest of your life. What do you take, where do you go and why?
MH: I would choose any city I haven’t been, walk around through the whole city to find interesting places and people. Sit down and wait until I find somebody interesting and spend time with them.
This is Ray, a 80 year-old fisherman from Alaska he has been watching the people of Pikes Market in Seattle for about 60 years. He told me he had seen a lot and I’m sure he has.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
MH: I think people can be impatient. That is the reason we have AI that corrects images on smartphones today; to make them look like they were shot on a bigger camera or even on film. We have VR headsets that let us be up on a high mountain in the blink of an eye. For people that can’t walk, this is great but if you are able to walk up this mountain by yourself and get sweaty, maybe exhausted, you will appreciate the view much more than the guy behind the VR headset. You can breathe the fresh air in, feel maybe your shaky legs and sit down to enjoy the view.
I think film photography is similar to that and much easier as many people think. For Example, get yourself a Canon EOS 50 camera with a new 50mm f/1.8 lens and you are all set for about 150 Euros or less.
If you like this kind of photography, you can easily move on to medium format or large format without spending a fortune today. There are apps on phones to measure light and explain to you how to set the manual settings on your camera. Also, look for analog photography workshops in your area, you will be surprised how many are available. Or visit one of my wet plate workshops 😉
In the Vienna area, there are so many labs where you can get your film professionally developed with a lot of service around it. It is easier and cheaper than ever to shoot film, I’m sure you will love the whole experience about it.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
MH: You can buy old lens designs newly-invented or just buy the old lenses. You can use filters to let digital look like film or you just use film. You can use an app that lets you wait a week to see the pictures, or you just bring your developed film to the lab and wait for it.
I think more and more people are looking forward to work more with their hands again and this is when the analog times come back. To put a record on, or to rewind a film in a camera. This just feels more real and human than the synthetic thing.
I’m happy to go for a run just with my Apple Watch and listen to wireless music – but I also can appreciate the sound of a record in my studio. Analog photography is not for geeks anymore, it is for everybody. I have had so many different people at my wet plate collodion workshop, who were not involved in photography at all. They just wanted to experience something new and I think this is what will keep film going in the future.
A massive thanks to Markus for stepping up. Although very glad that he agreed to do this interview, I’m almost more excited to introduce you to his wetplate work which veers from traditional portraiture to photography not normally associated with such a large, methodical and slow process.
Oh, and the video that got me hooked onto Markus’ work – shooting cherry blossoms on a 100 year old wetplate camera.
Thanks very much for reading and please do scroll back up and take it in one more time before you check out some of the other great articles on EMULSIVE this week.
As ever, keep shooting, folks.
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