Wet Plate Ambrotype Photography
"Capturing Images in Silver on Glass using Light"
"Art can be a weapon for change and we artists have the ability to wield it at will."
Shane Balkowitsch, Ambrotypist
Wet plate collodion is one of the earliest forms of photography. Frederick Scott Archer has been credited with inventing this historic process back in 1848-1851. The process became very popular worldwide but then quickly died off in the 1880's when a more convenient way of taking photographs was invented. In recent years there has been a small revival of the process when a number of contemporary photographers decided to go back to the roots of photography and embrace the old. Making a wet plate can be difficult, timely, costly, unpredictable, and requires a high degree of commitment. The images can be captured on glass (ambrotype) or on metal (tintype). The word Ambrotype is translated in Ancient Greek as "Immortal Impression". Digital photography of today relies on technology, wet plate photography relies on 160 year old chemistry and a bit of magic and some luck.
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 1800's. 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. The end result is a one-of-a-kind, archival object of art that will last many lifetimes. There are wet plates of Abraham Lincoln that look just as good today as they did a century and a half ago. It is thought that less than 1000 people worldwide carry on the tradition of wet plate today and most of those individuals are professional photographers at the height of their career. Each and every day the world is filled with millions and millions of digital photographs that have no value, character, significance or physical form, that is not the case with each and every wet plate. The wet plate process is magical and the end result is tangible and precious.
I am self taught and shoot wet plate photography exclusively, it is the only process that I know.
Shane Balkowitsch, "Shadow Catcher" - Maa'ishda tehxixi Agu'agshi (Hidatsa)
Nostalgic Glass Wet Plate Studio
2703 Big Sky Circle
Bismarck, ND 58503
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” - Teddy Roosevelt
"Natural Light is King." - Shane Balkowitsch, Ambrotypist, sometime in 2017 when my natural light studio was completed.
"Life is too short for unimaginative portraiture" - Shane Balkowitsch
"You cannot shame me with my work, I am the person that labored over its creation." - Shane Balkowitsch
"Photography is a love affair with what the eyes see, with what the hand creates and with what the heart feels" - Borut Peterlin, Slovenia
"Neither words or the most detailed painting can evoke a moment of vanished time as powerfully and as completely as a good photographic record. The camera records what is focused upon the ground glass. If we had been there we would have seen it so. We could have touched it, counted the pebbles, noted the wrinkles, no more no less. The photograph takes infinite care and renders its illusions perfect. The Implicit faith and truth in a photographic record" - Beaumont Newhall
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" - Arthur C. Clarke
"Be it known to you, therefore, that photography is no longer a mysterious science which requires the skill and cunning of the alchemist and the ability of the witch.", 1893, - Edward L. Wilson, Photographic Times & American Photographer
"In Photography There Are No Unexplained Shadows" - August Sander
"When photography gets so technical as to intimidate people, the element of simple enjoyment is bound to suffer. Any man who can see what he wants to get on film will usually find some way to get it; and a man who thinks his equipment is going to get it for him is not going to get much of anything." - Hunter S. Thompson February 26th, 1962
"Modern wet plate photography is "Using the past to record the present for the future." - Lawrence Naegle
"Saturate yourself with your subject and the camera will all but take you by the hand." - Margaret Bourke-White
"The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away." - Pablo Picasso
"I admit I don’t know the rules of composition, and I don’t know the lingo because I have gained my knowledge through work and observation. Pictures came first. Rules followed. No one ever became and artist by learning the rules or keeping them. It takes a good deal more than that. When I find myself stopping to think, I know I’m on the wrong track." - Edward Weston
"Those who can't criticize those who do." - Anonymous
"Do whatever you do and keep on doing it until people cannot ignore you anymore." - Martin Parr, Slovenia 2008
"We're all so frightened by time, the way it moves on and the way things disappear. That's why we're photographers. We're preservationists by nature. We take pictures to stop time, to commit moments to eternity. Human nature mad tangible." - Ed Harris in the movie Kodachrome
"The minute you pick up the camera you begin to lie - or to tell your own truth" - Richard Avedon
“The Opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude" - George Orwell
-Visit my Zenfolio Wet Plate Catalog and Blog -
- Northern Plains Native Americans: A Modern Wet Plate Perspective-
Wet Plate Images Archives
My 2012 Work (First Year)
My 2013 Work
My 2014 Work
My 2015 Work
My 2016 Work
My 2017 Work
My 2018 Work
My 2019 Work
My 2020 Work
My 2021 Work
Most Recent Work (Current Year - 2021)
"The Scullery Maid"
"Disdain For The Crown"
Ernie LaPointe "Crow Foot" Lakota
The Great Grandson of Sitting Bull
"Maiden Pouring Milk"
"Man's Great Escape"
"Wound-Up And Discarded"
"Red Cloud Woman"
"A Lifetime Of Contemplation"
Dr. Jordan B. Peterson
Dr. Jordan B. Peterson
"The Lobster Analogy"
Dr. Jordan B. Peterson
Jon Michael Batiste
Oscar for Best Original Music Score (2021)
5 Grammys (2022) including
Album of the Year
Monsignor James Patrick Shea
University of Mary
"The Homestake Miner"
"The Decanter Of Beauty And Grace"
"The Beheading Of Medusa"
Diptych Clear Glass Overlay
"Miss North Dakota USA"
with Bonnie Balkowitsch
Musee d'Archeologie Nationale
"Succumbed To Light"
with Borut Peterlin in Slovenia
"Channeling Eva Carriere"
Visit my Wikipedia Page
To see my TEDx Talk at the University of Mary, April 6th, 2016
See my wet plate of Evander Holyfield permanently curated by the Smithsonian
See my wet plate of Greta Thunberg permanently curated by the Library of Congress
See a list of my wet plates permanently curated by the State Historical Society of ND
See a list of my wet plates permanently curated by the Heard Museum in Arizona
CLICK HERE for "Seeds of Resistance" Editorial About Balkowitsch Wet Plate Work, (Deb Haaland Cover) Fall, 2021
"Wet Plate Pictoralism In The Modern World: Maiden Pouring Milk" on Petapixel January, 12th, 2022
STREET SHOTS PHOTOGRAPHY PODCAST, November 15th, 2021
FRAMES MAGAZINE PODCAST with W. Scott Olsen, March 4th, 2021
"Defender Of The Faith" in FRAMES MAGAZINE, January 11th, 2021
The Vintagent: Shooting For Us All: Shane Balkowitsch, December 6th, 2020
The Candid Frame Podcast (Episode #544) with Shane Balkowitsch, December 22nd, 2020
Sunny 16 Podcast in U.K. "Using The Past To Record The Present For the Future" with Shane Balkowitsch, November 12th, 2020
Mike Seminary and Friends Podcast, September 9th, 2021
Large Format Photography Podcast Interview with Shane Balkowitsch, September 11th, 2020
The Beginning Photographer Podcast "Shane Balkowitsch - Wet Plate Photography", September 8th, 2020
PHOTOVILLE 9th Edition: COVID-19 Social Isolation Wet Plate Series by Shane Balkowitsch, September 29th, 2020
Experts Edge Podcast with Bryan Caporicci "Wet Plate Photography with Shane Balkowitsch", August 6th, 2020
SOVO Magazine Feature "Protected: Shane Balkowitsch and Black Glass Ambrotypes", August 5th, 2020
Jeffery Saddoris Process Driven Podcast Interview with Shane Balkowitsch, July 8th, 2020
Martin Bailey Photography Podcast Interview with Shane Balkowitsch, July 6th, 2020
JJ Meets World Podcast with Shane Balkowitsch, April 25th, 2020
This Photographer Shot a Wet Plate Portrait Over Live Video Chat, PETAPIXEL, April 6th, 2020
Balkowitsch Mural Egged in Downtown Bismarck, New Home Found for Greta Thunberg Mural, Bismarck Tribune, February 13th, 2020
Greta Thunberg Mural Plans Falls to Threats of Boycotts and Vandalism in Bismarck, Washington Post, February 13th, 2020
Interview: Shane Balkowitsch's Historical Wet Plates of Greta Thunberg, December 23rd, 2019
Best of 2019: Top 50 Photographs From Around the World, My Modern Met, December 17th, 2019
"Chatting the Pictures Year End - Wet Plate of Great Thunberg" (Photo Analysis), December 8th, 2019
Library of Congress Archives Greta Thunberg Wet-Plate Photo, KFYR TV News, December 2nd, 2019
Photograph of Climate Activist Preserved at Library of Congress, Bismarck Tribune, December 1st, 2019
Greta Thunberg's North Dakota Photo is at National Library, Associated Press, December 1st, 2019
"A Wet Plate Portrait of Greta Thunberg", October 15th, 2019
"Greta Thunberg by Shane Balkowitsch", October 15th, 2019
"Greta Thunberg: Capturing a Voice, October 10th, 2019
Bismarck Photographer Captures Greta Thunberg on Glass, October 9th, 2019
"Wet Plate Photographer Captures Powerful Portraits of Native Americans, July 4th, 2019
Russian article in Bird of Flight about my Native Amerian work, July 18th, 2019
"First Native American Congresswoman spoke at local book signing, KXNews, June 23th, 2019
"A WARRIOR IN HIS LIFETIME", Photographic Book of Natives, High Plains Reader, June 24th, 2019
"BE FIERCE", Congresswoman Deb Haaland, High Plains Reader, June 27th, 2019
"Native Americans Are Not 'Extinct", Congresswoman Deb Haaland, Fargo Forum, June 23rd, 2019
Congresswoman Deb Haaland to Speak at Book Signing, Bismarck Tribune, June 19th, 2019
Video of Local Artist Honored at Heritage Center for Historic Photography, KFYR News, June 23th, 2019
Radio Interview with Bob Harris, June 19th, 2019
"Image Maker", Front Page of Minot Daily News, June 16th, 2019
"To Be A Shadow Catcher" March 7th, 2019
Radio Interview "Wet Plate Photographs by Shane Balkowitsch" September 18th, 2018
Orlando Scott Goff "Chasing and Enigma" by Lou Hafermehl
My Wet Plates at DAPL featured on CNN Virtual Reality "Looking Back on the Stand at Standing Rock" June 2017
My Wet Plate of Floris White Bull is featured in the movie AWAKE - A Dream from Standing Rock
Documenting Dakota Pipeline Protests in Wet Plate, Fargo Forum, August 15th, 2016
High Plains Reader, "Death by Oil", December 22th, 2016
High Plains Reader, "Can't Drink Oil", September 15th, 2016
High Plains Reader, "Water and Oil Do Not Mix", August 25th, 2016
"Sizing Up Humanity with Antiquated Craft" July 19th, 2017
Standing Rock is everywhere: one year later, featuring Arvol Looking Horse, February 22, 2018
The Photo Show Podcast with Shane Balkowitsch by Mike Pach, April 29th, 2019
Some Assembly Required: Shane Balkowitsch's Natural Light Collodion Studio, March 25th, 2019
Reviving a Lost Art at Nostalgic Glass Wet Plate Photography Studio - For Something More, January 8th, 2019
An Open Letter to Senator Heitkamp by Sabrina Hornung - High Plains Reader, Recalling Klimt Wet Plate, October 10th, 2018
Nokota Horses by Shane Balkowitsch - North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum, August 27th, 2018
Reframing History: ND Photographer's American Indian Portrait Series Coming to the Rourke, Inforum, August 19th, 2018
A Trick of the Light, Shane Balkowitsch Revives a Lost Art, High Plains Reader August 15th, 2018
ND Artist Creates Lourve-Inspired Piece, KFYR, July 21st, 2018
Shane Balkowitsch: Preserving the Process of 1800's Portraiture, Midwest Nest, May 2018
Shane Balkowitsch: The Wetplate Tradition Continues, by Bill Dobbins, February 21st, 2018
Wet Plate with Shane Balkowitsch, by Melanie Sioux , January 27, 2018
Shane Balkowitsch Built a Studio. Fotoblogia - Poland, January 29, 2018
Meet Wet Plate Artist Shane Balkowitsch, Onportraits, January 17, 2018
I Built the First Natural Light Wet Plate Studio in the US in Over a Century, Petapixel, January 11, 2018
Someone You Should Know: Wet Plate Photographer KXMB TV December 14, 2017
Only Natural Light Wet Plate Studio in North Dakota Completed KFYR TV November 2017
Bismarck Magazine September/October 2017 "Shane Balkowitsch"
"The Road to Sitting Bull" and Ernie LaPointe in Midwest Living Magazine September, 2017
My work with the human rights project "Those Among Us" featured on KFYR TV July 7th, 2017
My Native American Wet Plates featured on Digital Photographer Review June 16th, 2017
My Wet Plate "Death by Oil" is featured in the article "Culture Shift" by YES! Magazine
"Those Among Us" Wet Plate Documenting Human Rights Champions in ND with Sean Coffman
CLICK HERE read my interview with VICE Magazine, The Creators Series March 6th, 2017
CLICK HERE hear a podcast interview of me by John Meadows "Passion and Compassion" March 3rd, 2017
CLICK HERE see an article in Midwest Living Magazine about my Wet Plate Work, January, 2017
CLICK HERE see my plate of Dave Archambault III featured on the front cover Le Temps in Switzerland 12-9-2016
CLICK HERE see my plates featured in "Stone Ghosts" by Consequence Magazine written by Stephen Dau 11-25-2016
CLICK HERE to "Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's Eldest Tribal Member Celebrates 100 Years" 11-08-2016
CLICK HERE to listen to my interview by John Meadows of Classic Camera Revival 5-27-2016
CLICK HERE to Read Giving a Voice to the Voiceless: The Work of Shane Balkowitsch by Dustin White 8-31-2016
CLICK HERE to view Emily Ergen from the Historical Society talk about Ernie Lapointe's Plate "Eternal Field" 7-21-2016
CLICK HERE to listen to my interview by KFGO Radio in Fargo Post "Murderer's Gulch" 6-30-2016
CLICK HERE for my Contribution to the North Dakota - South Dakota Portfolio Exchange 6-20-2016
CLICK HERE for More on the Wet Plate Technique
CLICK HERE to see Shane featured on Front Page of Bismarck Tribune for General Custer Shoot
CLICK HERE to see Follow-up story in Bismarck Tribune for General Custer Shoot
CLICK HERE to see General Custer Shoot Video Produced by Bismarck Tribune 12-5-13
CLICK HERE to see General Custer Shoot Video Produced by KFYR TV 12-8-13
CLICK HERE to see Bismarck State College Blog Post of Graphic Design Students Visit to Studio 1-17-14
CLICK HERE to see Blog Post on Pencil Me In by Tom Marple 1-25-14
CLICK HERE to see Blog Post from Memorial Union Gallery at NDSU about my Exhibition "Souls of Silver" 8-27-14
CLICK HERE to see a News Story by KFYR about my studio and Ello 10-5-14
CLICK HERE to see a Mandan News article "Comparing the Past to the Present" my plate of Denean Hill, Olympian 3-11-15
CLICK HERE to see a Minot News video of my presentation to the students at Minot State University 3-13-15
CLICK HERE to see an Article by Battle Dispatch (Custer Battlefield.org) covering my Custer House Shoot Fall 2015
CLICK HERE to see an Article by The Quite Delightful Project Blog about my Image of my love Bonnie 5-20-15
CLICK HERE to see my work featured in BLUR Magazine #43 June, 2015
CLICK HERE to read a Blog Post by Holly Reynoso about my Wet Plate Adventure, June, 2015
CLICK HERE to read a Blog Post by "Analyzing 19th Century" Blog about my Julia M. Cameron "Certitude" Work, June, 2015
CLICK HERE to see my Julia M. Cameron inspired "Certitude" featured on the Gala Awards Website June, 2015
CLICK HERE to read "Fort Lincoln Transports into the Past" Mandan News July 15, 2015 Featuring "Departure on the Plains"
CLICK HERE to read "A Different Kind of Magic" Mandan News December 22, 2015 Featuring my shoot with Kat Perkins
CLICK HERE to watch a video of "The Slaying of the Sons" by Dustin White of Belzian, February 4th, 2016
CLICK HERE to read about my Bismarck State College "Rising Star" Award, May 12th, 2016
CLICK HERE to see my Wet Plate Q&A in the High Plains Reader November 18th, 2015
CLICK HERE to see article in Dakotafire about my "Eternal Field" Ernie LaPointe Shoot, November 2014
CLICK HERE to see me as featured artist in Artists of North Dakota, November 2015
CLICK HERE to see BSC Magazine Spring 2016 Featuring me as the new Rising Star
CLICK HERE to see a News Story by KXMD Williston on my Exhibition at the James Memorial Art Center with Deana Novak 10-31-14
CLICK HERE to see The Persecution of Complete Strangers, A Wet Plate Collaboration, August 27th, 2016
KFGO Radio in Fargo interview about the Evander Holyfield plate going to Smithsoniam 10-20-2016
KFYR Bismarck Wet Plate Photographer's Portrait of Boxing Legend Headed to Smithsonian 10-21-2016
CLICK HERE to see NDSU Campus News do a video of my visit to their Gallery
CLICK HERE to see "Souls of Silver" exhibition for the North Dakota Art Gallery Association, Opening Aug. 5th 2014
CLICK HERE to see my page dedicated to Ernie LaPointe, the last Great Grandson of Sitting Bull 9-6-14
CLICK HERE to see my page dedicated to Virgil Hill, the Olympian and Boxing Champion 2-20-15
CLICK HERE to see my Evander Holyfield Shoot on PetaPixel 2-20-15
Large Wet Plate Community Collaborations
Murderer's Gulch, June 11th, 2016
The Persecution of Complete Strangers, August 27th, 2016
The Capsizing of Humanity, June 17th, 2017
Liberty Leading the People, July 21st, 2018
The Throne of Gods, July 20th, 2019
No Vaccine For Death, July 17th, 2021
Historic Wet Plate Photographs
Frederick Stott Archer invented Wet Plate in 1848. The father of Collodion Wet Plate photography and the publisher of the very famous text on the subject called "The Chemist"
Abraham Lincoln a few years before his assassination.
Wet Plate Tin Type photograph of an anonymous "Veteran with his wife" taken by Frederick Scott Archer in 1850.
First ever photograph of a human being, 1838, Boulevard du Temple in Paris taken by Louis Daguerre, the father of Daguerreotype photography which predates Wet Plate by a decade.
Visitors since October, 2018:
Copyright Note: All referenced photographs, images and logos provided above are for informational purposes only and they are the property of their respective owners. Main portraits of Shane in header taken by Kevin Klein, Valley City ND May 29th, 2020 and Herb Ascherman, Jr., 2018 and black and white close-up by Kim Scianghetti Fine Art Photography, July 21st, 2017 and Maris Locmelis from Latvia, May 25th, 2019 at ECW 2019. www.imelevate.com www.scianghettiphotography.com www.ascherman.com