Episode 020 – Shane Balkowitsch: Shadow Catcher
“It took me 44 years but I found it, my life’s work. Don’t stop searching.”
Shane is a native of Bismarck, North Dakota, and a photographer. But just saying he’s a photographer is a grave understatement.
He’s a Wet Plate Collodion photographer and if you don’t know, wet plate is the process of printing on glass with silver and other, sometimes lethal, chemicals. The process began way back in 1848 and was quickly abandoned for more modern and efficient techniques.
“Digital photography of today relies on technology. Wet plate photography relies on 170-year-old chemistry, a bit of magic, and some luck. I think it’s important that as technology moves forward, we embrace and continue to celebrate and not forget important processes from the past.
Wet plate photography is one of those processes. Every time I show someone the wet plate process in person, they are absolutely amazed regarding the ability to get a photograph using some chemicals and pieces of glass that I cut by hand.”
When I think of Shane’s art, I think of him as an Alchemist, a historian, and a channeler who, through this legacy process, captures more than images on the glass.
His work is being preserved in museums all over the world, including the Smithsonian Institute, Oxford and so many more.
His portraits are impactful, political, and honest. Some have resulted in death threats but he’s remained committed and dedicated to his path.
This is a long conversation, the longest I’ve done so far but it’s an important one. I’m grateful for Shane’s work, his mission, and his time.
If you like what you’re hearing, subscribe and share this show with your friends because it doesn’t go anywhere without you.
Until next time, be nice and do good stuff.
- Instagram: @balkowitsch
- Facebook: @balkowitsch
- Website: http://sharoncol.balkowitsch.com/wetplate.htm
- Documentary: Balkowitsch (available on Amazon Prime)
- Book: Northern Plains Native Americans: A Modern Wet Plate Perspective
Shane Balkowitsch is an American wet plate photographer from Bismarck, North Dakota. Balkowitsch was given the name “Maa’ishda tehxixi Agu’agshi” (“Shadow Catcher”) by Calvin Grinnell of the Hidatsa-Mandan-Arikara Nation on October 28, 2018. The subject of his photos is the human condition..
[00:00:00] Chris: All right, time to unset. How you doing today? How you feeling? That’s enough small talk. Let’s get after it.
[00:00:12] Hey, welcome in everybody. I want to get right to it today. We got a great one. My guest is Shane Balkowitsch. Shane’s a native of Bismarck, North Dakota and a photographer, but just saying he’s a photographer is a grave understatement. Shane’s a wet plate collodion photographer, and if you don’t know, the process of wet plate began way back in 1848.
[00:00:32] It was a quickly abandoned for more modern and efficient techniques. The wet plate process is the process of printing on glass. With silver and sometimes other lethal chemicals. And again I’m oversimplifying the process, but there are fewer than a thousand people in the world that do this today. When I think of Shane’s art, I think him as an alchemist and a historian and a channeler who through his this legacy process, captures so much more than a portrait on glass.
[00:01:02] His work is being preserved in museums all over the world, and you can find him in the Smithsonian Institute in Oxford, England, and so many more places. His portraits are impactful, political and honest and have resulted in death threats. But he’s remained committed and dedicated to his path. He’s currently working on a series of books that capture and preserve that celebrate the Native American story, and that’s how I discovered him.
[00:01:27] This is a long conversation. It’s the longest I’ve done so far, but I’m. It’s an important one, and I’m so grateful for Shane’s work, his mission and his time. So sit back and I hope you enjoy my conversation with Shane Bako real quick. I know it’s difficult to get into doing the origin story over and over, but just for listeners who may not know you, can you just give us a little brief overview of what you do?
[00:01:56] Shane Balkowitsch: Yeah. I’m a wet plate collodion photographer. One of the first photographic processes that was ever invented by man is the wet plate collodion process invented by Frederick Scott Archer. And to give your listeners some timeframes that was in 1851 is when he he published an article in a scientific magazine called The Chemist.
[00:02:19] And he gave this process this ability to take photographs to the world.
[00:02:26] Chris: Yeah. And it’s pretty amazing. I will have in the show notes a link to your website, but you didn’t even own a camera before 2012 is what I’ve heard you say. Yeah.
[00:02:35] Shane Balkowitsch: Yeah. That’s correct. Yeah. I never had any interest in photography whatsoever.
[00:02:40] I just I just chased this process.
[00:02:43] Chris: So what made, what brought you there? Because a lot of people naturally when they go into photography, even if you didn’t think you were interested in it, you wouldn’t start with one of the most difficult processes on the planet. What drew you to the glass plate?
[00:02:56] Was it just something to mess around with and then you fell in love with, or was it just you read about it? What
[00:03:02] Shane Balkowitsch: made you No, I saw an image on Facebook, so I just was, I was just scrolling and then I stopped for whatever reason on this image. And I’ve said this before, the image wasn’t anything that you would usually stop, you would halt you into your tracks during your busy.
[00:03:17] Your day at work or whatever I was doing at down that day, and I just I stopped and I lingered. And, if I wasn’t on at that specific moment of, on that specific day if the person had that had not posted, that, had not posted it on that specific day, we would’ve just been two ships in the night and never had I never would’ve been introduced to this process.
[00:03:38] It’s so obscure that you just don’t, oh, I, yeah. Everyone knows about wet plate. Nobody knows about wet plate clothing and photography there. There’s less than a thousand of us in the world. So any. Photographer that knows the history of photography, they will know about it. But, the people that are the modern day digital photographers you don’t have to know a lot about the history of photography to, to pick up a digital camera.
[00:04:00] That wasn’t the case back, in the 1950s or sixties. If you were a photographer, there was this sense that you wanted to know what came before you. And it was analog photography. And it goes back to, the only photographic process that predates wet plate clothing photography is called the Derra type process, which was developed by a Frenchman by the last name of Deguire.
[00:04:22] And, but that was about 1838. But by 1851, Frederick Scott Archer had figured this out. And it really It already catapulted photography for the, for normal people like you and myself, to have their portraits taken up to that time, you would’ve had to have a painting done of someone, or a drawing or a sketch.
[00:04:42] There, there was no way of capturing someone’s likeness in such a realistic manner as this process. And it’s just absolutely fantastic and the historical aspects of it and the history surrounding it and all the things that it did back then and all the days that things that it continues to do today are rather fascinating.
[00:05:00] And it probably, just to let your listeners know as well the process died out about 1885 because it was placed, replaced by something newer and more convenient and you don’t, like we replace everything in this world.
[00:05:12] Chris: Yeah, that’s the thing is the legacy techniques get pulled over by what comes next.
[00:05:16] But now this time jumping. To 2022, just 10 years later, your works are permanently curated by the Historical society in North Dakota. And then you’re in the Smithsonian Institute Yeah. With the photo of a Vander Holyfield. Yeah. I’ve
[00:05:30] Shane Balkowitsch: got as of last week, I have 60 museums around the world that are curating not prints of my plates or replicas of my plates, but original.
[00:05:37] Black glass, amber types. My, my original works, and I should, I’ll briefly explain an amber type means eternal impression in Latin. It’s a word that comes from the Victorian era. My images are made outta pure silver on black glass. And what’s beautiful about silver doesn’t degrade.
[00:05:53] So these images will be here a thousand years from now, unbroken, which you can’t say for any other means of taking photographs in present day. So it’s they’re naturally archival, right? The moment I make them. And it’s been, it started with the state historical society.
[00:06:10] I’ve got Vander Holy Fields up the Smithsonian. We got Greta Thornberg’s portrait at the Library of Congress. The world famous Native American Herd Museum has a set of plates. I’ve got plates at the Oxford University of United Kingdom. Just send, name a few. But there’s a list of 60 places that are.
[00:06:26] Presently protecting my work,
[00:06:28] Chris: it will look exactly as it does a hundred years from now as it did the day you printed it it will, there’s no deterioration. Unlike, photos that fade with sunlight or digital photos that, that deteriorate. There’s absolutely zero degeneration if it doesn’t get physically harmed.
[00:06:43] Shane Balkowitsch: Correct? Yes. And what I’ve explained, and I have college students out and I have junior high students out, and I have grade school students, out classes, probably six to eight different classes a year come out and visit, and they drive from all over the tri-state area to come visit my studio and to see this process.
[00:06:56] I tell the students, I say, I have a silver spoon here and I have a silver spoon in my dark room. I said, if I say lave this silver spoon on the ground. And come back 500 years from now, what’s on the ground? And the answer must be a silver spoon. And silver doesn’t degrade and silver doesn’t fall apart.
[00:07:12] It’s a precious metal. And it’s I’m not sure if you’re aware do you think that silver is innate to
[00:07:19] Chris: earth? I don’t know. Actually. I wouldn’t, I would think it would be like a precious metal as gold would but I can’t say definitively that I know
[00:07:27] Shane Balkowitsch: that all of our heavy metals, gold included platinums, nickels, coppers, silver, all of our heavy metals, none of them were formed here on earth.
[00:07:36] Never in the creation of earth that we’re cro 4 billion years ago. Never in the creation of the formation of Earth was there ever enough energy to create any of our heavy metals. So all of our heavy metals, including the silver that I make my images out of, were brought here on asteroids, comets, meteors.
[00:07:53] Every bit of it. So every bit of, if you have a ring on your finger right now or a necklace, I think I see a necklace around, a metal necklace around your neck. If those are precious metals I’m not talking about manmade allos and stuff. I’m talking about precious metals, platinums and golds and silvers and nickels, coppers, those kind of things.
[00:08:11] The only time that those heavy metals were ever formatted is in the explosion of a star. So a star explodes, a supernova explodes, and at that moment there’s enough energy to create these heavy metals that debris is scattered throughout the cosmos, and these extra terrestrial bodies fly through that debris collect these molecules of.
[00:08:34] And bring it to earth, collide with earth. Then we have our tributaries and our rivers and stuff bring this stuff together and consolidate it into one area and we collect it. And we’ve been using it as humans. So it’s a very fascinating thing to think that this ring on my finger, the plates that my images are, that I’m making of these people were brought here by that method and only that method.
[00:08:55] And that’s why we can’t make, go ahead and make some copper tonight. You know what I mean? Sit in some lab somewhere and make some copper, or go ahead and make some gold. We can’t make any more gold. The gold that is here is the gold that was brought here, and no more gold is being brought to earth unless we have another collision.
[00:09:12] It’s fa it’s fascinating.
[00:09:14] Chris: Being in Baja, we live in Baja, Southern Baja, and just north of us is a town called Santa Rosalia. Okay. It’s on the Sea of Cortez and it’s famous for its copper. Deposits that were found back in the late, early 18 hundreds, 1850, 1860s, I think. And you can literally walk through the desert and find the valeo rocks, the blue.
[00:09:35] Shane Balkowitsch: Why only there? Yeah. Why only there? The reason is that one of these extra Tex bodies with these, this this large amount of debris was able, was crashed there. And that’s why there’s a gold rush in California and there’s a gold rush that was up in Alaska. And that’s why it wasn’t, there’s nothing specific about the San Francisco area that their gold, more gold form there.
[00:09:57] For some reason. It just happens to be that a specific meter with more gold content or whatever their extraterrestrial body collided with earth and landed there. So it’s really interesting that the stuff that I make my images out of is, is stardust and it, and is very precious.
[00:10:11] And it and that being said that was. Billions of years ago, some of these collisions millions, tens of millions of years ago. And what’s the story there about Your question? Is that the silver’s still there, isn’t it? It’s still there in the ground. It hasn’t been unchanged and it won’t change on my plates
[00:10:30] Chris: either.
[00:10:31] Amazing. Yeah. What does it feel like when you communicate to the new generation of photographers that come to your studio about the they have no recollection or actually, I’m saying they don’t have any interaction with, it’s not like the 16 year, 17 year old kids today or 18 year old kids. What do you even have messed with a film camera before their iPhones?
[00:10:54] That’s really their introduction to this whole world of photography would be through technology correct. What is the reaction when you show these kids this? Do the lights go on or do they look thoroughly baffled and just,
[00:11:09] Shane Balkowitsch: It’s it’s magical. It’s magical because they see it for what it is, it appears.
[00:11:13] If you were in my darkroom and one of these plates appear in the fixer Chris it appears like I’m performing some kind of magic or some kind of miracle. And can you imagine I, I’ve said this before as well, can you imagine back in the 18 hundreds I would go into some Native American tribe or something and show them this technology, what they must have thought.
[00:11:32] These young kids with digital cameras, they’ve seen the LCD screens, they’ve seen computers. They’ve been in the big movie theaters with the projection screens. They’ve seen the, they’ve seen all the technology, they’ve seen all the ways that you can you can display someone’s image or some kind of imagery.
[00:11:47] They know all about that, but they don’t know anything about this. And so it, it’s almost like I’m performing some kind of like a magic trick or something in front of them. But you, if you think I can catch the attention. And the imagination of someone in modern day. Can you imagine 150, 170 years ago?
[00:12:05] This was one of the most significant scientific, not just achievements, one of the most significant scientific achievements of the 18 hundreds. With no, nothing even close to it. This was a, an amazing thing that, that, that photography, that we were able to point a device at someone.
[00:12:23] So it’s it’s magical. And I’ve made, I’ve made nearly 4,500 of these over the last decade, and you have to, and I number every one of them. So I know exactly how many I’ve made. Think about that. 10 years took me a decade to make 4,500 of these images. You hire any wedding photographer this weekend for your.
[00:12:42] and you’re gonna get 4,500 images in an afternoon in a span of about three hours. So that that’s the crooks of the, if you want to call it the problem. That’s the puzzle that that I’m trying to solve, is that when you slow down and you take more photographs with more intent, you take your time and spend more time.
[00:13:02] I, on a Friday, if I spend eight hours in my studio, I make about six portraits. Eight hours I make six portraits is crazy.
[00:13:09] Chris: Yeah. And it’s all about the quality of the work rather versus the quantity. Because as you said, with the regular, you, I can go out and snap a thousand photos on my iPhone in, in, in an hour.
[00:13:21] And with that process I just step back for a second. I just talked to a guy named Jimmy Hallie Burton. He’s a. He’s a guy in, he’s a city council member in Idaho and he talks about, he had a TED talk called speed of discovery about slowing down. And when you slow down the way, the speed at which you move through the universe, your universe expands.
[00:13:44] So when you do your photography in a way that you are, it’s not about the, it’s not about the speed of the process. It is about the process. And so when you marry these two in a world, in a digital world today, do you see, I’ve heard you say that there’s no recorded legacy anymore because there’s no, that the digital world, there’s no physical documentation of our history.
[00:14:10] So there’s no
[00:14:11] Shane Balkowitsch: shoebox of photographs.
[00:14:12] Chris: Exactly. Is there any benefit there? Cuz think of the millions and millions of photos being taken. There’s, it’s a documentation process. We’re just not looking at any of them. Is it all just digital clutter?
[00:14:24] Shane Balkowitsch: We’re taking more photographs today than in the first 150 years of photography.
[00:14:29] It’s a problem. Yeah. I don’t, not for everyone, but for me, I see it as a problem. It’s, information glut. It’s what is the purpose of these photographs? And not that every photograph has to have a purpose. I’m not trying to get on some kind of soapbox here and try to be some preacher in regards to the merits of photography or the importance of photography.
[00:14:49] But really it’s the we take so many. I’ll, I can give you a quick example and it’s the technology that’s me really messing us up. I was, I did a podcast during the pandemic with this new, it was a young photographer’s podcast or something, and everyone out there is digital. And I had this fabulous conf conversation with the gentleman and I’ve been following that group on Facebook.
[00:15:11] And this last week there was, someone posted a photograph of this young girl. It was a digital photograph, a young girl holding, she’s about a little bit higher than Nehi on her mom. And you can see her mom there and the young girl. And he liked this photograph apparently, but what he didn’t see, he says I wanna know how to fix this.
[00:15:30] And if you look at the photograph and not to be crude, but all is the, this beautiful young face of this young girl. And you see this mother’s crotch in this photograph. Like it’s adjacent right to her, this woman, this young girl’s head. Sure. And he wanted to know how he could bring her sweater downed near her knees to cover up this problemed area.
[00:15:52] And, I just made a, a, I was trying to help, I just. Just try to get it in camera in the first place. It’s like, how do you not see, he wasn’t looking, we don’t look anymore when we take these digital photographs. He wasn’t looking right. He was, look, he wasn’t looking at the composition because it’s all, the thought is, I can fix this in post.
[00:16:12] The thought is I can fix this later. And my only point was, and I got attacked, was that you’re not being sensitive enough to the, his, you’re not answering his question and I am answering this question. The answer is, next time, let’s look at what we’re taking a photograph of. And there’s no way that you couldn’t miss that anatomical problem with this photograph.
[00:16:33] And they were going out there and they stretched this lady’s sweater down to her knees. And you just, then you start wondering what reality is this? What, what’s the purpose of this? This wasn’t some great Mona Aliso photography that we have to save here, but these were the things that were going into these images after they were made.
[00:16:50] And so what all I did is I took my, I’d grabbed the image and I did a nice crop and it’s, you could still see that there was a mother’s leg there, and it was a, it was an okay photograph and it, the cropping that I gave him fixed it, but that’s not what he wanted. And I was being insensitive to him because I told him the first rule of photography, look, yeah, just take a.
[00:17:10] Just look at what you’re taking a photograph of. But we don’t, we take a whole bunch of photographs and then we decide what we’re gonna do with them later.
[00:17:17] Chris: There are a lot of cameras now that actually market as their strengths, the ability to just snap anything. And then once it’s all done, go back and on your desktop through software, pick your focal points, pick your lighting situation, and all that stuff.
[00:17:30] So it’s taking any creativity out of the process of it, the entire process, which is what it’s all about in the first place. And in the music business, I spent 25 years in the music business and people used to laugh. The old joke was, we’re gonna fix it in the mix. You don’t fix it in the mix.
[00:17:46] You fix it when you’re recording. And. You don’t solve an acoustic problem. Are we purists, Chris? Maybe we are dinosaurs, we’re old purists. Look in the world of Elon Musk and Richard Branson. We’re Eli Whitney. We know we’re on the cotton G still, but, I’m okay with that.
[00:18:02] I’m okay with that because there is a, and I seriously though I’m not really a dinosaur, but I believe, I think it was Kurt Vette that said, in order to be a professional in experimentation, you have to first be an expert in the standard or something like that. Like you have to first know where it came from before you start experimenting, because if you don’t know from where it came, then you don’t know how to bend and break the rules so that you can, you’re just you have no point of reference.
[00:18:33] Yeah. You’re just dicking around. So like in music, I, you can call me a dinosaur or whatever, but I had a great teacher that. If something sounded bad, if an amp sounded bad or a drum didn’t have the correct sound, you didn’t fix it with an eq, you went out and moved the mic because it was the listening, it was an acoustic problem.
[00:18:52] So when you start to take right things out with electronic answers, you’re, you’ve changed the whole parameter without even first doing the obvious. So it’s just like taking a picture without first looking at your composition. It’s, and because it’s, that’s a perfect
[00:19:08] Shane Balkowitsch: example. Yeah. It’s a perfect, your music example is perfectly aligned with what I’m binded in photography.
[00:19:13] And you can only, I can only fix these photographs. There was no saving this crotch photograph of this mother if you were, unless you wanted to essentially crop it. And there was no saving it. And there is we need to. Get it the first time, and you can only polish these things so much. If it’s really bad, you can only polish that song.
[00:19:37] Much, and you can only polish that photograph so much post. But when you get in the complete mindset that you know, that you have post in mind you’re able to, change something digitally about the song or the photograph you’re really missing the point. And that’s the only, I, that’s the only point that I had to this young photographer and it’s maybe the best lesson that he could ever, but he came back to me and says, you weren’t helpful to me.
[00:20:03] Chris: You have to take that with a grain of salt too, because what do you say to that? Look, some people will think the only way that you’re being helpful is if you corroborate and give them the answer that they want. But sometimes if you give them another answer, That they don’t like or they don’t want to accept, then you are not being helpful.
[00:20:21] You can lead a horse to water. That’s the old expression. And it still rings true today. People are gonna take whatever you tell them and they’re either going to take it to heart or they’re not going to take it to heart, and they’re gonna ask enough people that they get the answer that they want.
[00:20:37] But I wanna move on I wanna move towards to 2019. Seems like it was a breakout year for you or was, there’s so much I want to get to and I don’t wanna jump around, but in 2019, the was the GTA Berg, right? That’s when she came, that’s when you took that photo of her at Standing Rock, is that correct?
[00:20:53] That’s correct. How did that come about? Were you just at, were you one of the, you were one of the few photographers well allowed at Standing Rock, which is bizarre to me to even say that, but,
[00:21:04] Shane Balkowitsch: The camp, at dle, the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, the camp, at first there was no cameras allowed whatsoever, but you have to understand, I was already making photographs of Native Americans five years already by that time, four years by that time.
[00:21:17] So I had already garnered some trust with the tribe. So the only reason that I got to. Take a photograph of Greta was that the tribe decided to give up some of 15 minutes of their time with her and the elder’s time with her and the children’s time with her, and allow this photographer that we trust to try to immortalize her at Standing Rock.
[00:21:39] And that’s really the important part there, is that it was an important photograph at Standing Rock. And the only reason I got that opportunity was because of friendships that I had fostered and cared for and people that I knew years before. There was a big sign on the, at the camp, no cameras allowed.
[00:21:56] And there was a gate at first and you had to go through this. There was a guard there and you couldn’t get your vehicle through without the guard, making sure there’s no weapons, no alcohol, no drugs, that kind of thing. They were checking all this stuff and there was a big sign. I remember being there as big sense as no cameras.
[00:22:12] And here I’ve got a five by seven large format camera on a tripod, a large tripod that I’m, you’re not sneaking this thing in. And it was just like, this is shame. He takes pictures down here, we trust him. And the gate opened up and I went in with my camera and I had the, I had to run to the place for that day with the large for cam before any other camera.
[00:22:32] And these were on the real early days of the protest before any other camera was even allowed in there. And
[00:22:36] Chris: was it the tribe’s parameter that said, no cameras, or was it. There was, there were private security details and there was all kinds of
[00:22:44] Shane Balkowitsch: Yeah, it was, yeah, it was the, whoever was put in managing the camp at that point, it was the tribe and the people that whose land was in and all that they wanted to make sure that this did not come into, become something they didn’t want it to be.
[00:22:56] And they wanted to make sure everyone was safe. So there’s no weapons, there’s no alcohol, sure. There’s none, nothing like that. No firearms, that kind of stuff. And there, one of the signs is no cameras. And there I just go I got a picture of me just walking onto camp with this large format camera and getting to do what I wanted to do.
[00:23:12] And but I wasn’t doing it for me. I was doing it for them to begin with. So it was a real huge honor and I’m in debt to them for that.
[00:23:20] Chris: How did you end up in that community? How did you end up fostering that relationship? Did it start with Ernie Le Point? Because that’s how I found you.
[00:23:28] I was. Wanting to do a story, I wanted to have a conversation with Ernie Le Point, and of course I saw your photograph, your glass wet plate photograph of Ernie Le Point, which led me to you on
[00:23:40] Shane Balkowitsch: your website that’s, we have the same origin story. Then how you found me, and that’s how I found Native American culture, is that I had never known a Native American before.
[00:23:49] Ernie Le Point. And I, for your listeners, we should explain that Ernie Le Point is the great grandson of sitting Bowl and proven just recently by dna which was a 13 year long exhaustive dna. Tribulation or trial that he had to, it took them 13 years to do this. And in, in fact, it was the, I wanna believe that it was the a modern day person.
[00:24:11] It’s the longest gap between a modern day person and a historical figure that’s ever been proven with dna, which was rather fascinating. Ernie Orlando, Scott Goff was a photographer here in Bismarck, North Dakota, wet plate photographer in the early, in the late 18 hundreds. And he captured the very first photograph of Sitting Bull in the historic wet plate process in my hometown of Bismarck.
[00:24:32] I found out about him, I found out about this image. It wasn’t a photograph of sitting bull, which he went on to take Many have many photographs taken of him. It was the first photograph was sitting, but was taken here just about three miles from where I’m sitting right now talking to you. I found out about that and I looked up Bernie on the, on on Google, found his phone number and called him and he knew all about the photograph and.
[00:24:55] Within a week or so’s time, he was in my studio. And that was the first, my first experience, my first earnest relationship with anyone from the Native American community. And the portrait we took that day was called Eternal Field. It was also the first portrait that ever got into any museum.
[00:25:11] So museum number one was the State Historical Society in North Dakota. And it was that photograph of Ernie Le Point, eternal Field that knocked down that door. So if any of your listeners want, they can just go on Google and type in eternal field, Ernie Le Point, and the portrait of him will come up.
[00:25:27] And then from then it was some months and stuff until it got so much recognition, that portrait that people just started saying you should take some more of these portraits. And it just slowly started to build and it’s all been by word of mouth and it’s been, it’s just been a wonder.
[00:25:41] adventure and my long term goal is to capture a thousand Native Americans in this process. And I’m at the plate 655 as of last week. And I’ve been doing it for seven, eight years now. So I probably got another five, six years to go until I can complete this series of 1000 portraits and every 250 portraits, I do a book.
[00:26:05] So there’d be four volumes of books when I’m completed with my.
[00:26:09] Chris: And I think there’s, there are two of those books that are available now, right? They’re called Northern Plains, native Americans, a Modern Wet Plate Perspective,
[00:26:16] Shane Balkowitsch: volume One and Volume two. Volume one is sold out,
[00:26:19] Chris: available right now, books
[00:26:20] Shane Balkowitsch: one and two.
[00:26:21] Yep. Volume one has been sold out for some years. There’s the Trade of Edition. You can still get on Amazon, but it’s not the limited edition copy. And that I do have out on Amazon right now, the limited edition copies of Volume two. And then in 95, portraits or so, I will start working on volume three.
[00:26:36] And we just continue to go forward. But it’s it’s been a wonderful adventure. It’s been a huge honor and I consider my Native America work, my life’s work. I do a bunch of other creative work and stuff, but it’s my connection. Calvin Grinnell, the Hadza Elder, had a formal ceremony about four or five years ago in my studio and gave me the name MGO in Hadasa, which means Shadow Catcher.
[00:26:58] And It’s been just it’s just been a fabulous experience and I just I owe so many people, so much for trusting me and coming into my studio.
[00:27:07] Chris: You are on the same wavelength with me because I was just about to ask you about Calvin Grinnell and how you came to, he came to bestow the name Shadow Catcher on you, and you just came out with it.
[00:27:18] So that, I think that’s really cool. But
[00:27:21] Shane Balkowitsch: it was a formal ceremony in my studio, so we actually had to have witnesses. This wasn’t just, Hey, my passing scene, oh, by the way, I’m going to call you Shadow catcher from here on, on. He said, no, we have to have a formal. We have to have a formal ceremony, and we wouldn’t videotape her.
[00:27:35] We didn’t photograph the ceremony itself. It was in my studio, and we had to have witnesses. He told me I had to have witnesses. So I had some, my Native American, very close friends come in. We had to, I cooked food. I cooked bison and corn chowder the night before. I learned how to make fry bread with Margaret Margaret Landon Yellowbird.
[00:27:53] And we had to exchange gifts. And then, and so this this formal, it was about a 45 minute ceremony occurred in my studio. And it’s the largest honor that I’ve ever achieved, not just photography, but in, in my life, that to be able to be accepted in this way. When Native American sitters and a lot of these people, you have to understand.
[00:28:15] Complete strangers. They’ve come in from, as far as Florida to come in, fly in Florida, come into my studio. I have people from all over the country come in. But before I was shadow catcher, they would come in as complete strangers. But if they know that I’m shadow catcher and they know that I’ve been adopted and the dots a tribe they come into my brothers sisters and that I just can’t, I can, I can tell you, and I have to say brothers and sisters, cuz I, it’s hard for me to describe what that means.
[00:28:41] But when they adopt you into a tribe, when you’re given these, this name it’s not just like I’m giving you a nickname. It’s nothing like that. It’s much more much more significant and much more spiritual. And I was really dedicated to this Native American series, Chris going before this naming, but since that naming thing, I just feel like I’m, I have this this duty.
[00:29:02] To to my friends, to do the best I can for them with every portrait that I take. So I put everyone in the best light possible, and I’m not the best photographer in the world. There’s much better photographers out there, but I do the best of my ability to do the best for them when they come
[00:29:18] Chris: in.
[00:29:18] And you’ve said that you don’t consider yourself, or you said in your TED Talk that you didn’t consider yourself a photographer and you never thought of yourself as an artist, which is just I can understand where that comes from because as an artist Songwriter and artist for 30 years independent.
[00:29:37] I know that in my own internal dialogue, I have my own battles and my own little demons or little whatever you wanna call them, that prevent me from saying certain things. But do you consider yourself a historian or has that changed? Do you have, do you really, do you now still believe that you’re not a photographer and you’re not, you don’t think of yourself as an artist?
[00:29:56] Can you still feel that with 4,500, 4,000 plates that you’ve done? And
[00:30:01] Shane Balkowitsch: yeah. I accepted the I had some older photographers come in and it was a running joke that Shane still doesn’t consider himself a photographer. And I had made making plates for some years and They just broke me down.
[00:30:13] They would come in and they’d say, Shane, you have to, every photographer that knew that I wasn’t calling myself a photographer says, when are you gonna call yourself a photographer? They’d make a comment online. Now you still, I see this image in front of me. I you’re still not considering yourself a photographer.
[00:30:25] And it wasn’t I just didn’t wanna insult anyone. I just didn’t want to say that it was a photographer, cuz I, I knew that there was photographers out there that knew what I didn’t know. They knew a lot about what I didn’t know. And I’m all self taught, so this was all on the fly. Just a bunch of trial and error for me.
[00:30:41] I didn’t wanna insult anyone and that was really where it adds. But yes, I am I have accepted the title of photographer. I don’t feel that I’m insulting anyone anymore with that. And but I still consider myself more of an image maker in, in that regard. I’m asked all the time, to write narration and stuff about my work.
[00:30:59] There may have an article in a newspaper or magazine or something and they want me to sit down and. and hash something out. I don’t, I’m not a writer, so I don’t feel comfortable, I can do something, some simple writing, but I don’t consider myself a writer. I like the fact that my images can speak for themselves, and that’s usually where I land.
[00:31:18] But Yeah. And as far as an artist I’ve, there’s a large amount of work that I do is my creative work, and I hope you’ve probably seen some of that online. And I do. I do deviate from, I don’t just take portraits of Native Americans but it’s fascinating to become, I’m gonna be 54 here in January.
[00:31:34] I was, 43 years of age. And all of a sudden you decide that you’re going. You’re gonna do this. And I use that with the students when they come in. Cuz I keep telling them, you gotta find that one thing. Cuz I really feel Chris, that this is what I was meant to do the entire, my entire life and for the rest of my life.
[00:31:51] And I know that may sound corny to some people, but it’s the truth. It’s how I feel in my soul that I was always meant to do this. It just took me 44 years to find it. And so I tell the students when they come in, keep looking, okay, you can’t be too old. Okay, keep looking, keep challenging keep, go out on a limb. It can be just do something, just, you gotta have these experiences and then you’ll never know when you’re gonna run across that one thing and you’re gonna say I get it now. That’s why I’m here. And there’s a majority, a vast majority of people in this world never get that.
[00:32:27] So I feel very. Fortunate to be in this position. There’s a large majority of people never have that one thing that they can say, yep, this is what I was meant to do the entire time, my entire life. And I was preparing 43 years up to that point, you don’t really realize it, but that entire 43 years led me to this moment,
[00:32:49] Chris: and that is, that’s incredibly powerful because there are a lot of people that don’t know what their purpose is or haven’t found it.
[00:32:58] They may have not stumbled upon it yet, but, and I didn’t mean to jump across the importance of what I’m really amazed with or just intrigued and I find incredibly telling about your work and you as a person is when you get bestowed. A tribal name or, and that honor, for a Native American culture to absorb you in, let’s face it, the white Americans don’t have a great track record with Native American population and we still don’t, for some reason, we make all kinds of waves about all kinds of other stuff and people and groups, but we always seem to leave out the Native American population in any of this inclusion talk.
[00:33:45] So when you do these portraits, especially for moments where you’re taking photos of these folks that don’t usually like their photos taken, that has to be an incredibly poignant, powerful moment for you that especially when you do a photo, I guess what I’m trying to get to is the photo of death by will and the amount of trust that an image like that takes.
[00:34:12] For a community who’s been bowled over time and time again. Can you talk about that image?
[00:34:20] Shane Balkowitsch: Yeah, and we can do death by oil is a photograph that I took. I was seeing what was going on down at the Dakota Access Pipeline. So not everyone could, and I’m not bragging here, but not everyone could pull this portrait off.
[00:34:33] Not that you could, not everyone could open the shutter and close the shutter and develop the plate. I’m just saying that the trust that I was given on that particular day and the trust that I was given after I shared it online was rather unbelievable. You are right. The white man has not been kind to Native Americans.
[00:34:53] I think, a number out there is seven 75 million Native Americans have been killed by white people since since the discovery of it wasn’t discovered. But for, from Christopher Columbus landing here, death by oil, it became apparent to me the story of the Dakota 38. There were some skirmishes, some wars between Native Americans and the white people back in the day.
[00:35:17] And this was about Abraham Lincoln’s era. I don’t know exact year. I’d have to look it up. But I found out that Abraham Lincoln had the largest. Structure built to hang 38 Native Americans on one fell swoop on one specific day right after Christmas in, in a certain year. And I don’t remember.
[00:35:39] I know all about Abe Lincoln from school. Chris. I don’t remember ever hearing this in any of my history books about Abraham Lincoln constructing a galls a day or two after Christmas and hanging 38 Native Americans at the same moment in time. It just pissed me off to no end. And it, not only the act pissed me off, but the false.
[00:36:06] Story that I had about Abraham Lincoln, about what I knew about what I thought I knew about this man. We know about the slavery and we know about all the civil war. We know all these things about, we didn’t, I didn’t know this and maybe I was ignorant, but I know a little bit of history. I didn’t know it either.
[00:36:20] Chris: I was never taught
[00:36:21] Shane Balkowitsch: this. Neither was I. So my Native American friends are sharing this story with me, and I just, I was just, I could just feel the uneasiness that I had about this, that this is just, this is way too far. Like how can this not be known? And this was just in Minnesota. We’re talking, this is only 400 miles from where I live.
[00:36:42] This isn’t on the other side of the planet for God’s sakes. This, I should know this, right? This should be something that I should know about. I had no idea about it. So the Dakota Access Pipelines was going down at the time I found out about the Dakota 38. And I want, just wanted to do something about it.
[00:36:57] The images of a young Native American with a feather on his on his, I’ve got a right next to the wall here. I’ve got a plaque where I won an award. This photograph won an award. So he has a feather on his young native American boy, and I’ve got a new around his neck. And if you notice, I’ve got oil dripping down his arm, the oil dripping down his arm symbolizes the Dakota Access Pipeline.
[00:37:20] So I was trying to bring the Dakota 38 into present day. So the modern day oil, that, that’s what that was. My, my friend’s present day strife. This is what they were fighting against. This is what they were getting shot with water cannons when it was below zero and stuff. This is what they were fighting for.
[00:37:35] So the oil symbolizes the, what was going on at the Dakota Access Pipelines. And then the new surround the neck brought to bear in modern day. And brought awareness to the Dakota 38. So the young, this young man comes in and I had never met him before. And so you can about imagine he agreed to the photograph.
[00:37:56] I explained it to him what it was. But for me it was very difficult to put a noose around this young man’s neck, even though the noose was not, first of all, I had to get a rope and then I had to learn how to actually tie a proper news. Which is it’s unnerving. That alone is unnerving. Like just the prep work for me to get the props together was cuz because I know the stories of what we did to the black, absolutely black people.
[00:38:20] I, I know the, what the stories of what we did to the Native Americans. To fashion. A noose is not something to take lightly. But I did, so I fashioned this noose. And when he came in, and it wasn’t tied to anything that would ever hurt him it was just tied to a light. So he would always pull down.
[00:38:34] But I wanted to prove to him, I put the noose around my own neck, showed him how it tightens and how it loosens and explain this to ’em. And I did have other, there was other elders, I wanna say there’s about eight people in the studio at this time. And then some of the Native Americans were elders.
[00:38:48] And I went around the room, we composed it, I poured the oil, which is chocolate syrup by the way, on his shoulder, it appears like oil. And I put this news around his neck. And I shot, before I shot death by I went around it. I let everyone in the room go underneath the dark cloth and take a look at the composition and take a look at what I was about to capture.
[00:39:09] And I asked each one of them, should I do this? Because I, at that point, when I saw it I sh was thinking, I shouldn’t do this. This isn’t just something I should do. And it was a unanimous decision by every Native American, including the young man that this needs to be done, Shane, that you should do this for us.
[00:39:26] And that’s the words that were used. And we made the exposure and I and we made the work and we shared it with the world. And it it got it got brave reviews, but this could go all sideways. This could have went really sideways. This could have been, people not understanding it. It’s all about the intent, Chris, if you understand my intent. But the problem with an image is you don’t know the intent. And that’s where, it’s not like you can give a disclaimer, you don’t know what my intent was, and you could chastise me and drag me down the street for making this image.
[00:40:00] And not really even knowing what the image is about. So that was the real big tightrope walk that I was walking with this image. But I didn’t get any flack from the Native American community. I got flack from people because when I did the portrait, I shared the story of the Dakota 38.
[00:40:17] I need to say, why am I doing this right? So I wrote a little narrative about why, and I explained Abraham Lincoln, and I told the story as, and this isn’t folklore. These are facts. There’s historical photographs of the gal not photographs, but there’s a drawing that someone did of the Gallos on the day that stood up on the bluff and took a picture of this, drew a picture of the Gallos and stuff.
[00:40:38] This is a fact. But so many people, the people that had the biggest problem were my fellow white people. Yeah. Me saying that I’m like, miss. Construing who Abraham
[00:40:50] Chris: Lincoln was. That, and that was the point I was trying to get to, is that the we are doing this revisionist history crap where, because the opinion wasn’t favorable, of course the backlash came from the people who were perpetrating the atrocities.
[00:41:06] It wasn’t coming from the people that you were showing the atrocity happened to. And the thing is that you do not get the benefit of putting your intent out there with a photo because you can’t put every photo out there with a disclaimer that says, oh, this is chocolate syrup and blah, blah, blah.
[00:41:22] Cause that just takes the impact of the photo completely away. Anyway, you want people to have that impact, right? The backlash is gonna come from people as it is today. , they don’t wanna talk about America’s violent history. We can’t, you start talking about that shit, and you are public enemy number one.
[00:41:39] And this goes back to when I heard that, this photo caused a stir. And rightly because I wasn’t taught about the Dakota 38 either. I had to look it up and read the, after I saw the portrait, I went and looked it up and did some research on it because I too have an incredibly favorable opinion of Abraham Lincoln.
[00:41:58] I love Lincoln. I read all kinds of stuff about Lincoln. I never, ever once heard this story. And when you put this death by oil, and then I found, I read that when you did the Greta Berg, you were gonna have a mural done and you had some backlash and actual threats on that. Threats to my life.
[00:42:19] Shane Balkowitsch: Can you talk about that?
[00:42:21] Yeah. The mural. J For me, I just wanted to, I just wanna spend one more moment on Lincoln. Okay. So the flack came from the people I was tarnishing the images of Lincoln, and all I was doing was telling the truth, right? And this isn’t some little thing that he did. This is huge. No time in American history as 38 other people of any color been killed by the president of the United States at one time.
[00:42:51] Okay? And then what I heard was, oh wow, there, he could have killed 258, but he decided to only kill 38. That doesn’t help. . That’s not what kind of thinking is that? These are 38 people and it and so for me, I can’t look at Lincoln the same way. No, me neither. I can’t look at Lincoln the same way.
[00:43:13] And I like, like you said, you looked up to him and I looked up to him before this as well, but I was shattering that for these people and they did not like it. They did not wanna hear.
[00:43:24] Chris: Yeah. It’s not an interpretation. There’s no, no gray area. There’s factual support to it. It’s not someone trying to slander Lincoln’s portrait.
[00:43:33] It actually happened. It’s not just something that we do today is we take these interpretations of different news events and it’s just like this, it’s amazing to me. But that’s a whole nother discussion. But yeah, this was factually document. An event that happened and it was pretty shocking that it’s not ever been talked
[00:43:52] Shane Balkowitsch: about.
[00:43:52] So let’s go back to the Greta Thunberg thing. Greta Thunberg, I was given that opportunity to capture her portrait. And I’ve got large installations here in town about six of them I wanna say right now. And I wanted to I thought let me give a gift of this portrait and we’ll install this downtown Bismarck on the side of a bakery.
[00:44:10] And it was not a good thing to do here in Bismarck, North Dakota where we’re in the middle of fracking country. And immediately the backlash. I got approval by the city that there’s no problem, Shane. They approved the image, they approved the message. They, there was no I’ve gotta say that the city of Bismark was fantastic.
[00:44:30] Like they’ve always been with all of my work. This is a piece of art. It would be, it’ll be beautiful on that wall. The the bakery said, yeah, no problem. The owner of the building said, no problem. And we were gonna install it. And then and then the threats came and they ended up egging my mural of Liberty Trudges through injustice.
[00:44:48] And your listeners could look that up. Liberty Trudges through injustice, bulk of which my last name. And you’ll find that image out there of all the images to go ahead and and destroy or egg. It was this liberty judges to ingest it. Ironic, isn’t it? Yeah. And then the Boycots came, they were gonna boycott this bakery, which was only a been business for a couple years at that point.
[00:45:06] And as a business owner myself, I was not. Gonna have any part of that, Chris. So I had to abandon this I had to pull the the installation of this art piece. And within few hours of that Fargo, North Dakota heard about my trials and tribulations and everything that I was dealing with and they decided to take it there.
[00:45:23] But then subsequently, after we did install it there, it was egg egged destroyed, and I had to replace it the second time there. So there was a faction of people in my home, and I’m born and raised here in Bismarck, North Dakota. This isn’t, I’m not some, someone from Ohio that just came to Bismarck, North Dakota on a whim.
[00:45:40] I’ve 1969 Bismarck Hospital. I was born here and raised. So this is my, this is on my home state. So for me, as someone from North Dakota, I think I have the right to, if I’m gonna be critical of North Dakota, , I have the right to be critical of North Dakota. This is my state. It’s not like someone from Texas coming in and being critical of North Dakota.
[00:46:01] I live and breathe and I, I live in this community and this is my community and I give back to this community a lot. And if there’s a moment of I’ve gotta seeing all of its praises, right? We gotta sing all of Abraham Lincoln’s praises that because he did do some good, but then, every once in a while you have to call a spade.
[00:46:20] And when something happens you get, you gotta say, oh, this just isn’t right. It was there was phone calls and then there was death threats and they were gonna boycott and the, there was the ings of the mural. And I got the police report hanging up here in my studio reminded me of the, what was going on.
[00:46:36] During that time. I even had I was at a dinner with my wife and four friends. And we were sitting at dinner. Nobody in the present day, in the last 15 years or so, since the invention of cell phones, does someone in the restaurant say, Mr. Bawi, is there a Mr. Bawi in the room, we have a phone call for you.
[00:46:54] When’s the last time that happens in movies? And that happened in movies in the eighties and the seventies and the sixties and the fifties. Never in modern day does someone, the proprietor of a restaurant look for Mr. Bako and find him and then hand him the phone? This happened. During this entire, right in the middle of this whole thing and it’s not hard to find me. I own Bako Enterprises. I’ve got vehicles that have my logo on it. And my car was parked right out front of the restaurant, but that’s what the proprietor did. Is there, Mr. Bako in the room. And I said, I raised my hand. Yes, I’m Mr. Bako. And he came over and handed me this phone and this person just breathed in the phone just letting me know that they knew where I was at on that particular moment.
[00:47:35] And I, so I hung up the phone and, everyone in the restaurant was just like, now what? Is someone gonna come in here? What, what is going on? And I wasn’t too concerned cuz I just considered these people cowards. But, it wasn’t it wasn’t fun for my guests and my wife on that evening that to have someone essentially say, we know where you’re at.
[00:47:56] And we can get you if you want to.
[00:47:58] Chris: So yeah, they weren’t intimidating just you at that point. They were now intimidating the entire restaurant and everything else that was in infringing on the,
[00:48:06] Shane Balkowitsch: but it’s not gonna stop me. But, it’s not gonna stop me. I’m gonna continue to call out these kind of things.
[00:48:13] I’m gonna continue to do what that’s the role of an artist, at least, as I define myself as an artist, is it’s my job to to shed light or bring attention to certain topics. And I do that relatively I do that all the time. I do that all the time. I just did that with the Roe v.
[00:48:28] Situation. I just made a print that addressed the, I’ve got three daughters, so I, again, and I’m a, I’m an a registered nurse by trade as well. I should explain to your audience. So I feel that I know a little bit about anatomy and what an abortion is and the reasons for abortions, the reason not to have abortions and all that.
[00:48:46] And to have the rights of my daughters potentially diminished. I didn’t see it well with me, so I did a with a coat hanger and an arm and some, again, chocolate
[00:48:56] Chris: syrup. Wow. That, I haven’t seen that one, but I’m sure it’s pretty impactful. And the thing about it, do you wanna know the name of it?
[00:49:04] Yeah. Tell me the name. Tell people the way to look that up without
[00:49:07] Shane Balkowitsch: a choice. Wow.
[00:49:10] Chris: Without a choice. This is we could, there are so many tangents that. We can go down. And the point of my show what I try to do is there is so much serious topic and very the negativity bias in the world is all bad news all the time.
[00:49:26] And so the mind onset, what I try to do is as much as I would, I think it’s important to talk about all of these things. I don’t do them to a degree where people are gonna feel like they’re listening to a political talk show because I’m not smart enough to engage in that. But when it comes to abortion and things like that I don’t think anyone on the planet would ever say that abortion is a good thing.
[00:49:51] Nobody is pro-abortion. Yeah. People are pro-choice and it’s not even it’s about your daughters and 150 or 160 million women’s rights to affect their bodies the way. They see fit. That’s the argument. And without going into all of that, so with those portraits, and you use the words sh shed light, and you’ve been using the exact words that I have in my notes, this whole conversation.
[00:50:24] So I’m sorry if I’m not asking you enough questions or partaking in the conversation, but I don’t like to interrupt people. I like to let them go. And whenever I’m thinking of something, you already start talking about it. So we’re it’s been, it’s dangerous to let me go, Chris. No, it’s not. It’s good brother.
[00:50:40] It’s good. But careful what you wish for. Listen
[00:50:43] Shane Balkowitsch: Back, and I don’t mean to, these are some dark subjects too. We should say, we got some dark subjects. We talk. It’s, I don’t, it’s you asked me, so I have to answer you
[00:50:52] Chris: honestly. No. Look man your photos. Are impactful and I am drawn to the Native American plight.
[00:51:00] I don’t know why. I grew up in Philly. I don’t have any relation to have any means to tell you why I feel connected to native American authors and Native Americans situations and stories. I just, it’s just what’s always been fascinating to me in my life, which is how I ended up discovering you through the Ernie Le Point photo.
[00:51:20] But so the topic, the impactful, what I find interesting, and of course your photography is interesting and what I like to do is talk to photographers and artists and chefs and musicians and creators, because I find that no matter what medium you’re in, there is a common thread that runs through.
[00:51:48] The top of the level that you’ve achieved. There’s, you could be a chef, you could be a opera singer, you could be whatever. And when you reach a certain level, there’s a thread that you could communicate with anyone because of what it takes to get there. And so the photography that you do and the art that you make with this process that is hundreds years old and is the vehicle that gets you here.
[00:52:10] But the message is what’s interesting and the way that you’re using your art to make a difference in a world where most people are creating shit on a daily basis that will live for about 30 seconds in the scroll and then not produce any impact. Or if it does produce an impact, it’s short lived and people move on.
[00:52:32] What the images that you captured at Standing Rock. And there are other people that were there, there were female photographer, I think Tracy what was her name? She went to jail for her photos there. But this whole process of shedding light on these things is a dark subject. It is.
[00:52:49] This is one of the only shows that I really will have that. But I think it’s important because I think the message and what you’re doing with this process is important. I think people like Greta Thunberg and all that stuff it’s a discussion that’s happening and it needs to happen and rushing it away because we don’t the answer doesn’t ever solve anything.
[00:53:14] What ha what have we ever accomplished, be it in our relationship, in our finances, in our life, by brushing it under the carpet and pretending it doesn’t exist. It doesn’t do shit. It doesn’t do anything good for anyone. I applaud your gumption and your sticktuitiveness with this because, taking hits when you get into the limelight is tough.
[00:53:37] I’ve taken hits. I’ve taken the hits. I know what it’s like. So to get the backlash is enough to make some people just stop. It’s not worth it. The life of your family and your daughters is not worth it. But the message that you’re sending by continuing to do your art is the impactful response in and of itself, whether you address it verbally or not, just by continuing.
[00:54:00] You’ve addressed it in my eyes.
[00:54:06] Shane Balkowitsch: There’s the humanity of it Chris? You have to ask yourself Shane, do you take landscapes? The answer is no. Shane, do you take still life? The answer is no. I can think of. Two or three images that have ever taken that didn’t have a human’s eyes in it. And there’s something about that. There’s the humanity, right? There’s the humanity during the pandemic. I, we had to cancel all my I’m booked out about seven months for my Friday sessions. That’s when I create, and I had to cancel all that. There wasn’t a damn way that I wasn’t gonna be continue to create during the pandemic.
[00:54:40] So I had my family down here. We did an entire C series where I just, you think I’m just capturing what’s happening here today, because I did look at some of those 1918 flu epidemic photographs. I looked at some, what, the people with the mask, they wore mask back in 1918, whoever knew any of this stuff, right?
[00:54:58] So I, it was important for me to capture what’s happening to me in my life in modern day, in this historic process. And those, that entire Covid series went to the Plains Art Museum and all 10 plates there that, and they were pictures of all my family, cuz they’re the only sitters that I had. I even did the self portrait.
[00:55:18] and I think a hundred, 150 years from now, you can look back at that and say yeah, they were going through the Covid pandemic then and this is, this shows us a little sliver of what life was or what, what this artist was trying to convey to us in the midst of it.
[00:55:34] Real time. That’s all time. Real time. Isn’t that the beauty of photography or songs or photographs or books? That’s the beauty because you can essentially communicate with the author hundreds of years later when they’re not present. If you read a book in your head as you’re reading the pages, you are, it’s a one way communication.
[00:55:56] They’re talking to you, but they’re talking to. . And I love that. I just love that. And that’s what I love about photography because I feel, and that’s why I don’t like in narratives, a lot of narratives attached to my work other than the documentary documenting what they’re about. But I don’t go into these long narratives because I lead that to the writers and maybe a writer will write about my work at some point and let leave it up to that’s their expertise.
[00:56:20] I’m not a writer, but don’t my images, and it is cliche, my images speak for themselves and they tell a story about me and about North Dakota and about the people that were around me at this time. And if that voice who gets the opportunity, if you came in, Chris and I took your portrait and we made a wet plate and I donated it to one of these museums.
[00:56:44] 400 years from now, someone could grab that plate and they look at the image and they may like it or they may not, doesn’t matter. They turn it over and on the back it has your, the date that I took it, it has the plate number that I made. It has your date of birth, it has your full name, maybe has a little scribble there about who you were and what you did.
[00:57:04] And then it says by Shane Bulk, which nostalgic glass white plate studio. For a moment, and I’ve said this before, you and I, if someone utters our names or reads our names in the future, you and I are alive again. In some sense. Who gets the opportunity long after they’re gone to have someone else appreciate what they did when they did it?
[00:57:25] It’s a very small, it’s a very small percentage of people get this opportunity. So for me it’s like an honor. It’s like for me, it’s something I’d never take for granted. For me, I do the best that I can to show who I am today because, and maybe it may not be interesting. It’s not for me to decide what if my work’s good.
[00:57:46] First of all, I’m too close to it. It’s not for me to decide that if my Native American portraits are historically significant. tomorrow, two weeks from now, or 400 years from now, it’s not for me to decide these things. That’s gonna have to be for people that are gonna have to look at my work long after I’m gone.
[00:58:03] So I’m not making any of my work for you or me, or even my Native American sitters. I really am not. If that doesn’t sound too harsh, I’m not making it for you. And I’ve said this to people when they come in I make the, people come in and say I don’t really like it to have my perk taken.
[00:58:18] My first response is I’m not taking this for you. Exactly. And they just they don’t know what to, they don’t know what to say. I say, and they look at me weird and I’m say, this isn’t for you. Do you have children? Yeah, I have children. I’m making it for them and then I’m taking it for their children’s children and theirs, children’s children.
[00:58:33] And then it just it does its thing. We. Too caught up and it’s about us right now. You know what I mean? Everything’s just the center of the universe is focused on what you know, us in, in, in present day and in the present day moment. And when you make objects that will last long, longer after you’re long after I’m gone you find something different, and it’s really rewarding and fascinating.
[00:58:56] It’s a huge honor and the thousands of people that have trusted me and come into my studio over this last decade it’s just been a fabulous ride. I never anticipated it. I never could have planned it. This isn’t some game that I, you know, I I thought that I would ever be playing and here I am and I know that all I want to do is continue to focus on my work and I just don’t feel like I have enough time, Chris.
[00:59:20] Now I just don’t, it’s not like I regret, but I just feel like. I don’t, I’m not gonna have enough time to do what I want to do. There’s not enough time, and I don’t know what to do about that. And maybe it’s the oncology nurse in me that’s, that’s speaking to me. But there’s I feel that something’s going to I’m just not, there’s so much that I want do with this process.
[00:59:44] There’s so many people that I want to immortalize in this process. There’s so many things that I want to portray. I just don’t feel I’m gonna have enough time to do it.
[00:59:53] Chris: As having an experiences of very small experiences with oncology nurses, my stepfather passed away from a tough cancer.
[01:00:00] But what I learned from people such as yourself is that you do what you can in the moment that you have, and you do the best you can. And after that, it’s outta your hands. At this point, in addition to an artist and a photographer, you’re a historian and you’re chronicling these moments that in, this is, to me, this is my impression from the short time I’ve known you.
[01:00:28] It’s you are chronicling these stories that otherwise don’t get told or get told with a vision that is not the truth. And I think when you print something, the way you print it, as an alchemist you’re really an alchemist when you put these chemicals to the plate and capture the image. There’s no falsifying.
[01:00:50] The record, there’s no cropping or editing the image to change what the image captured. It’s the image, like it or not.
[01:00:59] Shane Balkowitsch: Yes. And that’s so true. And it and it’s analog and it, and there’s no replicated either. I can make a scan of the plate, I should explain to your listeners real quick. It can make a scan of the plate and we can do paper prints and stuff like that.
[01:01:11] But there’s only one. So when you’ve seen all my work and you’ve, I gotta be honest with you, Chris, you’ve never seen my work. I can honestly say that you have never seen my work until you come visit my studio Or you find someone who has one of my plates, or you go to a museum that has one of my plates, that’s when you’re gonna see my work for the first time.
[01:01:28] Because if you see it, if I sent you a print today, it’s just a false representation of the original plate. So people walk through the front door, there’s a huge wall of hundreds of my plates on the wall, the first thing and that’s the first time people actually see what it is I’m doing here. And it’s about this, if you look at this romantically, and I tell the students as well, I’m not, these are ten second exposures most of the time.
[01:01:51] Okay. For your listeners, I open up the lens for 10 seconds. So these are not snapshots, these aren’t snippets, like split seconds of your life. Like all digital cameras do, and even film cameras do. It’s so quick that you could argue none of my life is on that plate. These are 10 seconds. So I’m actually making a ten second movie of you.
[01:02:12] I’ve got your heart beating in there. I’ve got the blood course into your veins in there. I got a quick blink. I got maybe a quick breath and guess what? I may have your thought that gets transferred back to the plate and that’s why, and that I know that’s hopelessly romantic and it, not everyone understands the importance of that to me, but that’s important to me.
[01:02:34] These are ten second movies of everyone that I’ve ever taken photographs of. It’s fantastic and there’s no changing it. The resolution on a we plate. So
[01:02:45] Chris: how do you. Get these images when, 10 seconds is a long time for someone to sit there and not blink or not breathe. And is that the key to getting a non blurry plate is because it’s not if you, if someone moves or something, does it actually ruin the
[01:03:01] Shane Balkowitsch: image?
[01:03:01] Yes. Yeah. If you, and people don’t understand moving, you think that, oh, I’m gonna move my head back and forth. Like you’re shaking your head back and forth. That’s not the movie. I, you can’t move at all. And that’s why, I use apparatus that they used 107. Here’s the thing. If it worked 170 years ago, if they could photograph it 170 years ago, why can’t I do it today with all of our, all of the the the technology we have in our life.
[01:03:22] So I have a head brace that’ll, this metal apparatus that grabs the back of your head and holds you completely. Those, let’s go back to Abraham Lincoln. Those portraits that you can elicit in your mind, right? Those, any portrait that you ever seen at Abraham Lincoln, it was a wet play. I think he had one or two der types taken.
[01:03:37] But a majority of the photographs that you ever know of Abraham Lincoln, Those are wet plates. And trust me, if he was in a studio having a formal portrait taken by a photographer and he’s the president of the United States, there was a head brace that grabbed him outta the back of the head. You don’t see it.
[01:03:52] It’s out of play. It’s be, it’s behind the sitter, but there’s something there holding him in place. And then there’s just a bunch of there’s a bunch of teaching and a bunch of coaching not to move. And if you have to blink, it’s gotta be quick blinks. You can’t deviate where your eyes are.
[01:04:05] If you’re looking left while I’m counting and making your imagery look right, I’m gonna have four pupils on the plate. You, the, these are things that you can easily ruin. These images and I should explain to your listeners as well, is not only archivable, the other beautiful thing about is the resolution of these images.
[01:04:23] If I started stacking molecules of silver at the tip of my finger, it would take 2 billion of them for you to be able to visualize it with the human eye. So I keep stacking 1, 2, 3, 4. I keep stacking molecule after molecule. If I could do that, if I could pipette molecule by molecule, I would go to 2 billion and then Chris would say, oh, I see it on your finger shape for the first time.
[01:04:42] I’m writing in those molecules of silver. So you can take any one of these plates that I’ve ever made, put it under the most high re resolution microscope, not a magnifying glass microscope, and you can’t get to the pixel of grain that makes up the image. You can put it right on a person’s eye, the microscope, and you cannot see the resolution.
[01:05:00] There’s no pixelization whatsoever. You need an electron microscope of 10,000 power in order to see the molecules of silver clumping to make up my image. So I’m not only am I making a photograph that’s gonna outlast any other photograph I’ve ever taken of you, I am making the most high resolution photograph that’s ever been taken of you and will ever be taken of you.
[01:05:19] So let’s ask ourselves, these are truthful images about as truthful as you can get. And some people will argue it’s not in color. I don’t care if it’s in color. I don’t care. I don’t need color to have your likeness. For me, it’s the most fantastic photographic process man has ever created.
[01:05:41] And we abandoned in 1885 for something cheaper, more inexpensive, more convenient, is really, like we do everything that’s, I. Sorry to go off on a tangent. No,
[01:05:51] Chris: tangents are good. Tangentially speaking. That’s a, that’s a really good podcast if you never heard that one too. They go off on tangents all the time.
[01:05:57] But back in the day when we were quote unquote progressing cars were, Everything was about getting faster, more efficient, making life easier, yada y on down the road. So we go all the way full circle in the music business again, where we go digital recording, which is the same X’s and O’s.
[01:06:16] It’s not really a recording, it’s just an interpretation and a representation. Cuz there it’s not printing on tape, but now everyone wants to go back and cut vinyl, it’s here we go. It’s funny cuz the process never dies because the process and that’s the
[01:06:31] Shane Balkowitsch: only kind of music that I, go ahead.
[01:06:33] It’s funny that you mentioned that, Chris, because the only music that’s played in the studio is analog records. When the students come in and I’m playing records and they hear the cracking and the scratches and all that stuff on the records, it’s, there’s an imperfection there.
[01:06:47] There’s this sound that sometimes is imperfect, but it seems perfect and it just seems truer to life than, if I’m playing something off, Spotify or something like that. It’s just there’s no difference. And your zeros and ones in a long data file have no chance of being here 150 years from now.
[01:07:04] I don’t care who you are, they have no chance.
[01:07:06] Chris: This is where we go back to sounding like dinosaurs again. I know. I’m cool with that. It’s okay. There’s a certain amount, there’s a certain amount of truth, right? That, like that I, as a, I’m producing this show. It’s, I’m not, I’ve never done it for a long time.
[01:07:20] I I’ve been recording for 25 years, 30 years. So this show melds all of my talents. I’ve been a writer for 30 years. So I get to write, I get to record, I get to produce, I comp, I compose all of the music, and I’m always in that mindset that it has to be, Great. Every show I stopped using the word perfect because I don’t believe perfection exists, and I don’t have any desire to hunt down perfection, because for me, the beauty is always evident in the imperfection.
[01:07:52] It’s the moments where I have a really shitty day, or something happens, or something else happens that these little beautiful moments peak up or something crashes on a track that I was recording for an episode and I didn’t save it. So I have to start all over. And then that second track is twice as good as that first track.
[01:08:10] And I would’ve never gotten there if I didn’t have something happen. So the search for perfection for me now is gone. But the greatness and the truth, I, there’s an immense amount of pressure that everything has to be great. It has to sound great. There can’t be a single flaw there. Every edit has to be great.
[01:08:27] There’s no ums, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And what happens is, You lose the truth. Like those vinyl recordings and stuff, man, those, there are some of my favorite records where they just left in bad notes. They left in drum mishit. They left in because it was just the truth. And I think the search for perfection has killed the search for truth, which I have much more interest in truth than I do.
[01:08:53] Perfection. Yeah.
[01:08:55] Shane Balkowitsch: To go down. That’s my right. Yeah. That’s fantastic. Thank you. I appreciate that very much. But when this process that I practice is anything but perfect. The people abandoned it because it was, it’s rather a daunting, difficult thing to get your arms around.
[01:09:08] But I say in my studio I say that the sitter’s imperfect. Like you’re sitting in front of me, I’m taking your picture right Chris, you’re imperfect. I know that. Okay. I’m not insulting. If you Oh, absolutely. You’re imper, guess what? The process isn’t perfect, right? This photo, my wife will tell you that.
[01:09:23] Yeah, my wife as well the process. So the sitter isn’t perfect, the process isn’t perfect. I can tell you there can be squirrels and nuances and things can’t develop. And there’s a shit load of boatload of things that can happen to stop me from making a photograph. So we know that Frederick Scott Archer’s process is not perfect.
[01:09:40] The photographer, me, myself, I’m far from perfect. Okay? But when you bring all these imperfect things together, sometimes, guess what? Sometimes you can get something rather perfect. And that’s all I strive for. I’ve
[01:09:54] Chris: heard you say you’ve you’re in pursuit of that perfect plate. And then the very next sentence you say, knowing that there, I’ll never get the perfect plate, but isn’t each plate just perfect the way it is?
[01:10:04] Isn’t each plate just freaking exactly the way it should be? And doesn’t that then mean it’s perfect?
[01:10:12] Shane Balkowitsch: When I first started, everything, any, if I got an image at all, Chris, it was perfect. I felt like I had achieved something. And then you then the perfectionist, the per, there has to be a degree of you.
[01:10:24] You want some kind of quality, and then that kind of, it has to come into some degree or it’s just all just shit everywhere. . All I can say is that not all the work is created equal. I don’t fall in love and I’m too close to this to ask, but I don’t fall in love with every one of my portraits.
[01:10:41] I don’t there’s just it just can’t be. If that was the case, this would be so monotonous and boring. I don’t I can’t tell you. So I don’t. There has to be degrees and if I took two of your portraits, people will come in and I’ll happen to take two of their portraits.
[01:10:54] And then I always ask ’em, this is an exercise that I do. I said, which one’s the best? And then they look at me and they’re not used to this question. This isn’t, this is very odd that you’re asking me. I have two of them. And what do you think they wanna say? They wanna say I love them both.
[01:11:09] That’s 99% of the people say I love them. No, stop. That can’t be, these are not the same. They’re not the exact same. Which one do you like the best? And it gets them into this thinking that they’re just not used to.
[01:11:25] Chris: They probably look at you for which one you like best so that they can tell you what you think they,
[01:11:30] Shane Balkowitsch: they should think.
[01:11:31] And I never try to give that away. And I always know in my heart immediately, I don’t have any problems saying that this one’s the best of the two. I know the moment. I knew it way before anyone else. I’m in the driver’s seat here, right? I’ve seen enough of these. I know immediately.
[01:11:44] I don’t feel the same fucking wow how every image, I can’t, I gotta block Chris. I got a box of Kleenex, is in my dark room. What why’s the box of Kleenex is in my dark room. People cry in my dark room. I’ll have complete strangers come into my dark room and within 45 minutes they have tears in their eyes, in my dark room.
[01:12:10] And this has nothing to do with me as a photographer being the, like I made the most beautiful portrait that it brought on the tears. Nothing to do. But if you know the story and everyone that comes in gets the story, I talk about the history. I show ’em how it’s made. There’s something about this process that is just, you can’t get.
[01:12:27] When’s the last time you took a photograph, Chris, with your iPhone, and someone cried when they saw it on the screen. Okay, it’s never happened. Why do I get, I have to replace my box of Kleenex? I reminded my wife. I’m running low in the darkroom. Why on, and I’m not saying every Friday someone breaks down in my studio, but a couple times a month I got complete strangers.
[01:12:54] And it takes a lot for a stranger to start crying, right? Yeah,
[01:12:57] Chris: sure. There’s a vulnerability
[01:12:59] Shane Balkowitsch: that takes. What is that about? What is that about? I never take it for granted. I, these are emotional moments. I find myself giving them hugs and there’s this, because I think that they I’m not sure, I don’t know if they.
[01:13:12] If they realize, the significance of the portrait just because they know that this portrait is going to be here long after they’re gone. I’m not sure what it is. But it surely isn’t my talent as a photographer that’s making these people cry. There’s something that they find an attachment to these images that they, there’s some kind of release.
[01:13:31] There’s, I’m having a hard time. You’re a writer. And you may be able to put some words to this, but I don’t know what it is that would make someone cry when they saw their
[01:13:42] Chris: portrait. I’m certainly not gonna speak for someone, but I think that it’s understandable to me that they would, because I think maybe they view themselves in a different way or maybe you captured you said you, in addition to their image, you capture their thoughts, you capture their breathing and maybe that was a moment when they come to someone.
[01:14:01] Where they know they’re not just getting a click portrait, that’s gonna be, there’s a whole process and you put that apparatus behind their head to steady them. And then they are. I find it I find it hard to imagine that once I felt something clamped the back of my neck, I wouldn’t be immediately transported to another place, another emotion that this is different.
[01:14:23] This is gonna, maybe this hurts, maybe this truth hurts. Maybe this is joyful. Maybe you’ve captured something they were trying to capture their entire lives. I don’t know what that is, but maybe there’s a bit of catharsism that goes on when they come to you because it’s not like you can just do a digital portrait.
[01:14:43] They have to travel to you. It takes effort. It takes a physical effort to get to Bismark book. It’s intent takes. Exactly. And very few things in our modern world are inconvenient or costs. Time. Like we can do anything. You can get online and order your groceries right now and you don’t even have to go to the store.
[01:15:04] But to take a picture like this for people to come to your studio it’s intent. And in that intent, I don’t think you show up in the studio to get a mundane photo of yourself that you could get by snapping it in your mirror or taking a selfie. I think when people get to you, you’re almost, I would imagine like a a psychologist or a really good bartender where you’re gonna pull something out of them that they’re ready to get rid of, but they have no idea how they want to get rid of it until they sit down in your chair and then they see that image.
[01:15:36] And obviously for the ones that break down, it’s not about being stranger, it’s about the trust they have to give you in order to take that picture in the first place. So once that trust is established, then it’s met with the grace that I think you have that I don’t think anyone could argue, you don’t have with the, 600 photos of Native Americans that are put their trust in you to capture their story.
[01:16:01] So I think when it comes down to it, it’s the story that you tell with the image that is making people have a reaction that they wouldn’t get from other images. I’m just, philosophizing here if you wanna talk about romanticism, but I know that I’m speaking from a place where if I sat down in your chair, that would be the reason I’m there.
[01:16:22] I’m there because I can take a selfie with whatever, I can even take a go get my old film camera and, take a film image. But I, if I show up in your studio, there’s a reason that I’m in the studio for that amount of effort and for that process. I don’t know.
[01:16:41] Shane Balkowitsch: With modern photographs, we don’t have any skin in the game.
[01:16:43] It doesn’t cost us anything. If we take those extra a hundred photographs, it didn’t cost us a penny even. And their lies a part of the problem too. These portraits are rather this is an expensive process and if everyone I joke if an iPhone photograph, if everyone got charged a dollar every time they took an iPhone photograph I think there’d be a lot less photographs.
[01:17:04] And I think there’d be a lot better photographs. And I think we take a lot, we take a lot less photographs of stuff that just, it doesn’t have any place. There’s, it doesn’t, and I’m not like some judge of what’s, should be photographed of what shouldn’t, but I’m guilty of this myself.
[01:17:21] One of the things that I struggle with Chris, is that you know how these images, once I make them, how they become, invaluable. I’ll take someone’s portrait and, we’ll, they’ll love it and I’ll love it. And we have it there and it’s gotta go on the drying rack. And I, and sometimes I, I’ve made a mistake where I’ve dropped it, or let’s just say theoretically I dropped the image and it gets broken in front of us.
[01:17:45] So we took a portrait, we really liked it, and it got broken. You can’t replace it. I can sit that person, they’re still in my studio. I can sit ’em down. I can take, I don’t even move the camera. I can take the same photograph, but the photograph that I take, I can never get back to the photograph from seven minutes ago, no.
[01:18:05] Chris: 20 minutes
[01:18:06] Shane Balkowitsch: ago. No, you’ll never get back. The broken photograph can never be replaced. So I start with this piece. Like this piece of glass, it’s $12. If I break, if I just take a piece of glass before I put an image on it and throw it around, it gets broken. I’m not out anything other than the 12 bucks it cost me to make that, to have that piece of glass.
[01:18:23] The chemicals, there’s a certain amount of money that goes into those, but all that stuff can be replaced. But as soon as the person sits in front of me and I put their image on that piece of glass with those chemicals, I have something that I can’t put a dollar price on. I can’t put, I can’t, there’s no, what’s it worth?
[01:18:43] Is it worth a dollar? Is it worth $500? I’ve sold plates for as much as $3,000 a piece. Is it worth $3,000? How much is my Vander Holy Field portrait worth? How much is my portrait of Ernie Le Point? The great grandson is sitting bowl worth and I’m not. And I don’t mean to be in this everything has to have a dollar value.
[01:19:03] My point is that none of those amounts work. For any of those portraits. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Vander Holy Field or Ernie Le Point, or Greta Thunberg or Deb Hal, or it doesn’t matter, John Batiste or these are all people that I’ve photographed. It doesn’t matter. The normal photograph of Joe Schmo in my studio, it’s invaluable.
[01:19:24] I can’t replace it even as the artist that made it. I can’t get you back 15 minutes ago. I can never, so these are snapshots of time in, in a process, in silver that’s gonna last a long time. And so I struggle with this. How do I have something that 15 minutes ago had no value whatsoever and now all of a sudden we created it together and it’s invaluable and we can’t break it.
[01:19:48] We gotta covet it, we gotta take care of it, and we’d be devastated. You wanna talk about someone crying? I’ll break out in tears if I break the wrong plate. Why is that? How does that what was the important factor? , is it the time that we spent together? What puts the value on these objects that I made?
[01:20:09] Chris: The image is gonna be different because the emotion is now, and the reaction is different because before you broke the image, then it was a different energy. And now after you broke the image, you’re capturing an equally independent and equally unique image. But it certainly will never be the image that happened before.
[01:20:28] And just to be clear, like we’re not, I don’t think either of us are condemning the people snapping a hundred photos because they’re extremely thrilled about, that’s, it’s not a, it’s not a right or wrong. It’s not, if you snap 3000 images on your iPhone, nobody’s condemning you and no one’s saying this is that and this is that.
[01:20:45] But your process is specifically, we’re talking specifically about a an a legendary, I don’t, I keep losing the word. A legacy process that is a purpose. You are to me as a historian, you’re chronicle, you’re chronicling history and you’re chronicling people’s experiences. So we’re not, before people listen in and they go, man, these guys just sat down and shit on, digital photography for two hours.
[01:21:11] It’s not what we’re doing. We’re just making a case that you said there’s no skin in the game. And that comes down with anything. I think if you can just chuck it away and delete it without a problem it’s, you have a mindset of, oh, maybe it’s not that important. Or it’s less important than and maybe you don’t have that mindset.
[01:21:30] Maybe that’s just my mindset where if I just, if I snap 20 pictures on my iPhone, but then when I go home I sit down and I delete 19 of them because I go, I don’t even know what I was looking at there. I don’t know what that is there, but there’s
[01:21:42] Shane Balkowitsch: an editorial thing there, right?
[01:21:45] There’s an editorial thing there. You’re editing you’re, there’s intent for that. Yeah. And we’re not, I’ve got digital. I actually have an official digital photographer for my studio. I’m not pretty down digital photography for God’s sakes. It’s but you’re having on the podcast an analog photographer that practices the archaic 170 year old process.
[01:22:04] I have to give you my slant. Of course. If I don’t give you my slant this conversation is not that interesting. Of course. It’s not that interesting. Of course. But the fact is, your digital camera and that iPhone could not be, would not exist without Frederick Archer and that, and these pillars of photography that came before and figured all this shit out for all of us.
[01:22:23] We’re all, this isn’t my process. You know what I mean? This isn’t, I’m just borrowing what he gave the world. It’s his process. And that’s why I openly share this process with other people. I’ve trained many people in this. I don’t even charge, I train many people. If photographers wanna learn this process, they come in on a weekend, they spend the whole weekend with me, I show them.
[01:22:44] And because it’s not my process. No, you’re, it’s
[01:22:47] Chris: my, you’re a steward and I know that you are all about,
[01:22:49] Shane Balkowitsch: Sharing the, but I wanna show the ad, the advantageous. I wanna show why this process, Chris, is still viable when a lot of people say it’s not. Yeah. Like, why would you do that?
[01:23:05] When I have something that’s analog, it exists. I know that if I have something that’s analog, it exists and I can touch it, I can feel it, I can listen to it, I can view it. If we don’t have things that are analog, We just, it’s not here in the real world. And I, and during my TEDx talk I use the example, my photograph, my camera, here, how can I knock digital photography?
[01:23:29] I got 20,000 photographs on my camera. If I deleted my, I weighed my camera with the 20,000 photographs, deleted my 20,000 photographs and weighed the camera, it would weigh the same. And I don’t mean to be too much of a simpleton about this, but that tells me one thing that those images they’re not here, they’re not in the real world because if they were here, they would add something to the weight of that camera.
[01:23:56] They have to be here physically, and they’re not, there are a bunch of zeros and ones on some magnetic drive somewhere, and they don’t, I have no chance of getting these getting these into the future. And, but I do, because what have I done as a photographer with 20,000. Photographs. And my iPhone’s, my only other camera, by the way, Chris, I’ve printed off every one of those photographs.
[01:24:18] There’s drawers behind me, and you don’t, students come in and I’ll go through my drawer and I just start throwing these little books of all these photographs. I’ve got 20,000 photographs from my iPhone printed. And why do I do that? Because I don’t trust digital. If I think that they’re important, at least someone could paper through these prints at some point and they exist.
[01:24:38] And that’s all. If you’re not gonna, if you don’t care about it existing, do you only want it for that? That, do you just only want it for that three seconds on your, as you scroll on your screen, you just wanna look at it once and that’s enough. You take a beautiful portrait of, your wife or something like that, and you don’t want that in the future.
[01:24:56] We don’t care about our pictures that way anymore.
[01:25:00] Chris: Yeah. I just think it’s our I just think everything’s too easy. And that’s just, now we’re just gonna go down the rabbit hole of my dad used to when I was a kid and I walked 10 miles to school, blah, blah, blah. But I don’t think easy is bad but I think that there’s a place for people that want to do analog stuff and I think that the people that want to engage themselves in the process further should be allowed and applauded for that.
[01:25:26] And then there’s people who are doing really cool stuff with digital photography and there it’s, and there’s cool people doing stuff with digital music and it’s not my lot. It’s not my I don’t feel the warm and fuzzies from a digital track, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a bad digital track.
[01:25:42] I’m not in any position to say what’s great art and what’s not. I know what resonates with me. But I think because, and I do see the point of when you print something out, you actually have a physical. Thing that you can actually have a response to. But I think a whole generation of people just are totally cool.
[01:26:01] Having their response to their screens, which I is, the older I get the less I enjoy that at all. There’s very little pleasure in that. So the cathartic process is, and the I’m less concerned about the end result as I am about the process with anything, these. We could go on ad nauseum because we’re too old dinosaurs, apparently.
[01:26:25] And so what I wanna do is, I’m glad we’ve determined that. Where can people, yeah, where can people with if there’s nothing else we solved in this hour and 40 minutes, we determined that. So where can people find your work? Tell, talk about the books real quick before we tie it all up.
[01:26:41] Shane Balkowitsch: I’m just I’m just continuing.
[01:26:42] I’m trying to get to my third volume of my Native American series. So you can find my books, Northern Plains Native Americans, a modern wet plate perspective on Amazon. They’re both out there. There’s the trade edition, which is volume one. Like I said the limited edition book is sold out, but my volume two that just came out in March is out there.
[01:27:00] And I’ll start working on volume three. If you go to Google, I just type in Balkowitsch, B a l k o w I T S C H. Wet plate, two words, and you’re gonna get a hundreds of different articles and links and stuff out there on Amazon. If you have Amazon Prime, you can watch my documentary called Balkowitsch. Two young filmmakers follow me around for nearly two years and put this hour long documentary that won some awards together.
[01:27:26] They can find out there. You can, my, my work’s out there. If you wanna find me on Facebook, you can find me on Instagram both places on Bko, which is the same name. B A L K O W I T S C H. It’s been an honor Chris, talking to you. I hope we I think we discussed some things that I wanted to say for sure, I hope we haven’t bored anyone.
[01:27:45] I just don’t want to. . I just wanna continue to capture more people. I wanna continue to share this process with the world, and I just wanna see where it all leads me and as much I just plan on doing this for as long as I can possibly do it. And and if anyone, any of your listeners are ever through the North Dakota area they can look me up and come in on a Friday and watch what I do.
[01:28:08] And I have an open door policy here in my studio. It’s it’s always rewarding things when visitors come in. I have a natural light studio that I built here. I take photographs using window light just like they did 170 years ago. So it’s it’s a creative haven for me and anyone’s always welcome to come and see this process in.
[01:28:27] Chris: I can’t thank you enough for your time and your mission and your work. I think it’s fascinating and I go down the rabbit hole when I start to look at the images because they are they are spectacular pieces of art. And I would love to get up to the studio and see you one day. So if I’m coming through Bismark, you can be sure that I’m gonna be banging on your door. All the best to you and your family this holiday season.
[01:28:47] And we’ll talk.
[01:28:49] Shane Balkowitsch: Thanks. Thanks for everything. Thanks for your kindness, Chris.
[01:28:55] Chris: Oh man, ti the season. We are in it now. There’s no turning back. Thanks for listening to the show. If you like what you’re hearing, please share it with your friends. We are actively trying to expand our reach and we don’t do that without you. If you wanna get on the email list or find out how to support the show, you can do email@example.com.
[01:29:13] Next week I’m flying solo. Speaking of flying, are you traveling for the holidays? Are you already feeling those holiday blues? I got your back. Next week is all about the holidays. Think of me as your audible, Xanax, mother’s little helper, and I help you get through it. Make sure you come back for that and until next week, you know what I’m gonna say.
[01:29:35] Be nice, do good stuff.
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