The Capsizing of Humanity

A Wet Plate Collodion Collaboration in Bismarck, North Dakota

June 17th, 2017



I have always admired "The Raft of the Medusa", the humongous oil painting hanging on the wall at the Louvre in France.  I thought it would be fascinating to try and capture the romantic and epic feel of that painting in my beloved wet plate collodion process.  So I asked for volunteers and collaborators on Facebook and we had a full crew within 15 minutes.  So over the eight months we collaborated as a group.

We will be recreating the epic and tragic voyage of the Medusa, the 1816 tragedy as sea.  Only 15 people survived, one of which was the woman Charlotte Picard who later wrote about this horrific adventure.  We are basing our inspiration on the 1818 painting by Theodore Gericault called “The Raft of the Medusa”.  I am calling this wet plate, a Tabeaux Vivant, “The Capsizing of Humanity” to point back to the tragedy itself and to also illuminate the present state of affairs around the world.  

I thought the greatest and most rewarding challenge of this shoot would to be not to have water.  A crazy thought for a raft scene at sea.  We could have staged something down by the river bottoms I suppose, but I had this idea of doing the boat scene in the open plains and that is exactly what we did.  Paul Noot the local art instructor at Bismarck High School for decades was in charge of taking sheets of plastic and cotton batting to transforming them into the torrid water around the boat.  Jason Lueder a master wood carpenter took a pile of abandoned wood and transformed it into our raft, the raft that would carry our castaways to safety.  

The day of the shoot we had 30mph winds, overcast skies and a constant drizzle of rain.  None of these variable are conducive to making a good wet plate, but we endured.  I am forever grateful to every single person who was involved and I am so proud that the final plate along with the Credits Page of everyone involved will be archived by the Historical Society of North Dakota indefinitely.  What is very important is that nobody was paid or is making any money from this collaboration.  Who says a community cannot come together for nothing more than a chance to create a piece of art together?  I heart is full with the love that I received that day. 

Shane Balkowitsch, Resident Ambrotypist


CLICK HERE Read "Sizing Up Humanity with Antiquated Craft" July 19th, 2017


Synopsis from Wikipedia:

In June 1816, the French frigate Méduse departed from Rochefort, bound for the Senegalese port of Saint-Louis. She headed a convoy of three other ships: the storeship Loire, the brig Argus and the corvette Écho. Viscount Hugues Duroy de Chaumereys had been appointed captain of the frigate despite having scarcely sailed in 20 years.[4][5] After the wreck, public outrage mistakenly attributed responsibility for his appointment to Louis XVIII, though his was a routine naval appointment made within the Ministry of the Navy and far outside the concerns of the monarch.[6] The frigate's mission was to accept the British return of Senegal under the terms of France's acceptance of the Peace of Paris. The appointed French governor of Senegal, Colonel Julien-Désiré Schmaltz, and his wife and daughter were among the passengers.[7]

In an effort to make good time, the Méduse overtook the other ships, but due to poor navigation it drifted 100 miles (161 km) off course. On 2 July, it ran aground on a sandbank off the West African coast, near today's Mauritania. The collision was widely blamed on the incompetence of De Chaumereys, a returned émigré who lacked experience and ability, but had been granted his commission as a result of an act of political preferment.[8][9][10] Efforts to free the ship failed, so, on 5 July, the frightened passengers and crew started an attempt to travel the 60 miles (97 km) to the African coast in the frigate's six boats. Although the Méduse was carrying 400 people, including 160 crew, there was space for only about 250 in the boats. The remainder of the ship's complement—at least 146 men and one woman—were piled onto a hastily built raft, that partially submerged once it was loaded. Seventeen crew members opted to stay aboard the grounded Méduse. The captain and crew aboard the other boats intended to tow the raft, but after only a few miles the raft was turned loose.[11] For sustenance the crew of the raft had only a bag of ship's biscuit (consumed on the first day), two casks of water (lost overboard during fighting) and six casks of wine.[12]

According to critic Jonathan Miles, the raft carried the survivors "to the frontiers of human experience. Crazed, parched and starved, they slaughtered mutineers, ate their dead companions and killed the weakest."[8][13] After 13 days, on 17 July 1816, the raft was rescued by the Argus by chance—no particular search effort was made by the French for the raft.[14] By this time only 15 men were still alive; the others had been killed or thrown overboard by their comrades, died of starvation, or thrown themselves into the sea in despair.[15] The incident became a huge public embarrassment for the French monarchy, only recently restored to power after Napoleon's defeat in 1815.[16][17]

The Raft of the Medusa (French: Le Radeau de la Méduse [lə ʁado d(ə) la medyz]) is an oil painting of 1818–1819 by the French Romantic painter and lithographer Théodore Géricault (1791–1824). ________________________________________________________________________






The Capsizing of Humanity Through the Lens of Chad Nodland




The Capsizing of Humanity Through the Lens of Tom Wirtz


The Capsizing of Humanity Through the Lens of Mike LaLonde


Other Wet Plates from our time Together on the Raft of the Medusa

"While I Live, I Cry Out to You" and "Mutiny on the Raft of the Medusa"



A Wet Plate Collaboration

June 17th, 2017

Nostalgic Glass Wet Plate Studio

Bismarck, North Dakota


Nostalgic Glass Wet Plate Studio, Shane Balkowitsch, Ambrotypist




Castaways:                              Support Staff:

Lou Hafermehl                                Marek Dojs, Director

Chad Balkowitsch                             Mike LaLonde, Photography

Noah Miller                                  Tom Wirtz, Assistant w/ Camera

Richard Loewen                               Moira McNichols, Make-up

Tony Fladeland                               Kim Olson, Set Assistant

Adam Steen                                   Jason Lueder, Set & Raft Carpenter

Kevin Tengesdal                              Nolan Johnson, Videographer

Ben Pace                                     John Sullivan IV, Wood Supply

Adam Michal                                  Nika Ostby, Wet Plate Assist

Greyson Balkowitsch                          Chad Nodland, Photography 

Phillip Schultz                              Paul Noot, Artist of Water

John LaLonde                                 Sabrina Hornung, Cyanotype Artist

Brandon Wetch                                Michele Oster Renner, Head of Sail   

Morgan Drake                                 Linae Bieber, Head Costume

Abby Balkowitsch                             Jeff Phillips, Set Assistance

  (As Charlotte Picard)                      Andrea Heidrich, Hair

                                             Angie Pember Brockey, Distress

                Flag Designer

                                             Dustin White, Writer & Poet

                                             Chad Balkowitsch, Carpenter

                                             Melanie Kuntz Malsam, Make-up

                                             Emily Brandt, Costume Assistant

                                             James Lueder, Carpenter Assistant

                                             Verna Anderson Leigh, Barrel Prop

                                             Dan Miller, Fasting Collaborator

                                             Nancy Willis, Water Assistant


Bismarck Historical Society, Mike LaLonde and Walt Bailey

State Historical Society of ND, Emily Ergen & Lindsay Schott

Bismarck Downtown Artist Cooperative (BDAC), Paul Noot


May 11th, 2017

Upon the resurrected Machine
Survivors of Medusa explored an old frontier
Flirting with the brink of human experience
They chose a path the weak would not survive

Upon that lonely corpse
A multitude would succumb to the sea
Consumed of the flesh, given into despair
A terror had arisen, an embarrassment ensued

Upon a raft destined for peace
History would record the atrocities that occurred
Upon France the blemish would hold
As but 15 washed up on land

And now upon an inspiring vessel
Past is mingled with the present
As those who remember come together
To be captured on silver and glass


Contact Information:
Shane Balkowitsch, Ambrotypist
Nostalgic Glass
4419 Centurion Dr.
Bismarck, ND 58504
(701)223-9936 Phone

Copyright Note: All referenced photographs, images and logos provided above are for informational purposes only and they are the property of their respective owners.  Mike LaLonde, Chad Nodland and Tom Wirtz were photographers kind enough to bring their cameras to the Raft and provide images as part of the collaboration.