A Wet Plate Collodion Collaboration in Bismarck, North Dakota
June 11th, 2016
I stumbled upon an image by Jacob Riis taken in 1888 called "Bandits Roost". Riis took the photograph at 59 Mulberry Street in New York. The image haunted me from the moment that I saw it. I knew of an alley here in Bismarck that would work perfectly for a modern day wet plate inspired by Riis's work. I pitched the idea on Facebook and asked if anyone would like to collaborate. Within 6 hours I had to shut it down because I had over 40 people that wanted to be involved. I now had my team, but I did not even have permission from the City of Bismarck to use the alley. I quickly called the city and talked Mike Berg who manages traffic and with the help of Mike Seminary our Mayor, our motley crew was given permission to use the alley for one day, June 11th, 2016.
So over the next six months we collaborated as a group. We needed to somehow transform a modern day alley into something from the 19th Century. We did not have a title for the shoot but it turns out Bismarck had its own bad alley or street referred to as "Murderer's Gulch" or "Bloody Fourth Street" back in the 1870's. So we quickly adopted the name "Murderer's Gulch" for our collaboration. I also realized that this idea of mine had gotten too big for me to handle independently so I decided that I needed a director. Marek Djos was very kind to volunteer immediately to help me out bring this idea to life and I am forever grateful to him.
What was most important in my mind from the very beginning is that this needed to be a collaboration. We had a budget of $0.00 dollars so everything we needed had be supplied or fabricated by the collaborators. We needed period correct clothing, clotheslines, a wooden perch to get some characters off ground level, some steps, fencing, straw, barrels and many other set items. All of which was provided by all of the collaborators, everyone was assigned a task and everyone did what it took to fulfill their duty to the team.
This is by far the most rewarding creative experience I have ever been involved in. The day of the shoot we had 30mph winds, 95 degree temperatures and direct sunlight. 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
Bandit's Roost (1888) by Jacob Riis, from How the Other Half Lives. This image is Bandit's Roost at 59˝Mulberry Street, considered the most crime-ridden, dangerous part of New York City.
CLICK HERE for time lapsed video of the Murderer's Gulch Collaboration
CLICK HERE for video of the Murderer's Gulch Plate Clearing in the Fixer by Nolan Johnson
CLICK HERE for KFYR TV "Murderer's Gulch Recreates History" Video
CLICK HERE for KXNET TV "An Old Fashioned Photography Event Takes Place in Downtown Bismarck" Video
CLICK HERE for Mandan News Article "Carefully Stepping along Bloody Fourth", December 25th, 2015
CLICK HERE "The History of Bismarck, Episode 2: Bloody Fourth" Video by Makoche Studios
CLICK HERE for Mandan News Article "Wickedest Street in the Wickedest Town", October 29th, 2015
CLICK HERE for Mandan News Article "Wickedest City in the West, Bismarck? Really?", December 9th, 2015
CLICK HERE for Dustin White's Report on our Time Together at the "Murderer's Gulch; A Historic Photo Shoot"
CLICK HERE for 100 Best Things to do in New York Blog, by Jenn Miller
BELOW COLOR DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPH by Marshall Lipp of NightOwl Photography
BELOW COLOR DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHS by Brad Slaubaugh of Glasser Images, Courtesy of Jack Glasser
BELOW COLOR DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHS by Chad Nodland (SnapChad)
BELOW COLOR DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHS by Dustin White from the Midwestern Scout
BELOW BLACK AND WHITE DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHS by John LaLonde
BELOW COLOR DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHS by Mike LaLonde
Other Wet Plates from our time Together in the Gulch
"A Friendly Scuffle at Murderer's Gulch" and "The Soiled Doves of Murderer's Gulch"
8' Lighted Print Installation in Downtown Bismarck
In the Alley near Broadway and 4th Street, exact historical location of the original Gulch
Thanks to Beth Nodland and John Morrison for making the wall available
Our Cast of Murderer's and Soiled Doves
Banjo the Mutt
Trainer Jessie Leben
The Madame of the Soiled Doves
Kevin R. Tengesdal
Vagamond turned Murderer
Daughter of Traveler
Murderer with Blade
Jordan Rae Mulder
Andrea Anderson Haman
Soiled Dove with a Secret
John Sullivan IV
Waggoner turned Murderer
Amy "Sally Stitches" Hendrickson
Musician Turned Murderer
Thespian Turned Murderer
Unknown Stranger of the Gulch
MURDERER’S GULCH COLLABORATORS, STAFF & SUPPORT
Event: June 11th, 2016
Nostalgic Glass Wet Plate Studio, Shane Balkowitsch, Ambrotypist
Cast: Support Staff:
Soiled Doves –Marek Dojs, Director
Bonnie Balkowitsch (the Madame) Mike LaLonde, Photography
Farren Nelson Jerry Anderson, Consultant
Jordan Rae Mulder Dustin White, Writer
Andrea Anderson Haman Moira McNichols, Make-up
Megan Frankl DeAnne Billings, Wardrobe
Amy Hendrickson Nolan Johnson, Videographer
Jessie Leben, Assistant
Brad Slaubaugh, Photography
Murderers –of Glasser Images
Kevin Tengesdal Lori Sager, Costumes
Richard Loewen Jason Lueder, Set Carpenter
Rob Sandness Beth Nodland, Local Historian
Derek Harper John Sullivan IV, Set Master
Jerome Hathaway Greg Frank, Apprentice
John Sullivan IV Marshall Lipp, Photography
Brandon Wetch Chad Balkowitsch, Props
Pat Toepke Judith Roberts, Props
Monte Faul Rissa Williams, Support
Kathleen Fettig, Support
John LaLonde, Photography
Chad Nodland, Photography
Drunken Lady – Homeless Boy –
Emily Brandt Greyson Balkowitsch
Travelers – Stray Dog –
Corey and Eve Bloom Banjo, owner Jessie Leben
Bismarck Historical Society, Mike LaLonde and Walt Bailey
State Historical Society of ND, Emily Ergan & Lindsay Schott
Bismarck Downtown Artist Cooperative (BDAC), Paul Noot
Dakota West Art Council (DWAC), Eileen Walsh
Fort Abraham Lincoln Foundation, Aaron Barth
City of Bismarck, Mike Seminary and Mike Berg
Lewis and Clark Fort Mandan Foundation, David Borlaug
Glasser Images, Jack Glasser
Walkers N' Daughters Jewelers for their gracious use of space
All Venue for large print provided by Beth Nodland and John G. Morrison of NodMor, LLC.
Other Historic Riis Images
By Dustin White
March 14, 2016
The streets flowed with blood; outlaws ran free. Just the brave dared to walk along fourth, and only then with a pistol by their side. It was murderer’s gulch; the wickedest street in the wickedest town.
It was said that no respectable woman would ever walk down that street, fearing the types attracted by the scene. But no shortage of ladies were to be found with soiled doves filling up bawdy houses.
For those looking for a different sort of vice, saloons and gambling halls lined the gulch. Fortunes were made, and lives were lost, by those who knew when to hold them, and others who didn’t know when to run.
No law was found among the street no sheriff ventured. The only justice served was by one’s own hand, or the cavalry to which one belonged. It was the wild west, an unforgiving land.
Shane Balkowitsch, Ambrotypist
4419 Centurion Dr.
Bismarck, ND 58504
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, Jerry Anderson, Dustin White, Nolan Johnson, Brad Slaubaugh, Marshall Lipp and Jack Glasser were photographers kind enough to bring their cameras to the Gulch and provide images as part of the collaboration.