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Souls of Silver exhibit on at the Arts Center

John M. Steiner / The Sun Wet plate photographs hang on the wall as seen Wednesday through an image of a woman on a large screen. The new exhibit is open for viewing at the Arts Center in downtown Jamestown.

If you ask Shane Balkowitsch, whose exhibit Souls of Silver; Wet Plate Photographs, is on display at the Arts Center, to describe himself, he would say he is a businessman.

“I’m not a photographer. I’ve never taken any training in photography,” he said.

Balkowitsch said he runs a family business, Balkowitsch Enterprises, that works in modern technology. His way of getting away from the business world is by making wet plate photographs, a technique first developed in 1848.

Balkowitsch said a wet plate photographer makes a film base on a piece of glass or metal using collodion, submerges it in a silver nitrate solution to make it light sensitive, and then exposes the photograph usually in an old-style, wood-bellows camera box and antique brass lens from the 1800s. The process is called wet plate because during the entire process the chemicals on the plates must remain wet and cannot be allowed to dry.

Balkowitsch said he uses glass as opposed to metal in the process because the glass plate is more sturdy than the metal plates.

Balkowitsch said he became interested in the technique after seeing a wet plate photograph image online.

“It (the image) just caught my eye,” he said.

Balkowitsch said he also saw a picture of the man who had taken the photograph. The man was standing over a plate of glass with a bottle in his hand. Balkowitsch said he contacted the photographer and asked him about the process.

Balkowitsch then basically learned how to do the process on his own.

“Within 45 days of seeing that first image I made my first photograph,” he said.

That was in 2012. Since then, Balkowitsch has developed the exhibit being featured at the Arts Center.

Balkowitsch makes photos using the wet plate process every Friday. He said he doesn’t charge people for making a photo, and he has mainly made photos of family and friends. Balkowitsch said he believes he is the only artist in North Dakota who makes photos using the wet plate process.

Once his photos became known, Balkowitsch said he had photographers, people trained in photography, asking to be trained in the wet plate process.

What attracts Balkowitsch to making photos with this process is the results.

“The images are completely comprised of silver on glass,” he said. “I only do portraits. For me it’s important that there are eyes in the photo. The eyes are so evocative.”

Sally Jeppson, Arts Center gallery manager, said Balkowitsch came to a meeting of the North Dakota Art Gallery Association last year and did a presentation on his work to see if there was interest in galleries hosting an exhibit of his work.

Jeppson said Balkowitsch’s photos have a lot of “high drama” in them.

“It’s almost like they’re velvety, a texture to his photos,” she said.

Balkowitsch will be at the Arts Center from 1 to 4 p.m. Jan. 31 to demonstrate the wet plate photography process. People who attend the event will have their names put into a hat, and Balkowitsch will make photos of the people whose names are drawn from the hat.

“It takes about 25 minutes to do a photograph, so we should be able to get about six or seven people done,” he said. The people who get their photo taken will get to take the completed print with them.

The exhibit runs through Jan. 31.

Exhibit Details

What: Souls of Silver; Wet Plate Photographs by Shane Balkowitsch

When: Jan. 14 through Jan. 31

Where: The Arts Center, 115 2nd St. SW. The Arts Center is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

The exhibit is free.

Sun reporter Chris Olson can be reached at 701-952-8454 or by email at colson@ jamestownsun.com

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