Luther Gerlach

Wet-Plate Collodion Photography

“I feel as if my soul is in the past and my mind is in the future. The vintage cameras and processes I use have a magical quality, which helps me to bring forth an indefinable depth of feeling and poetic structure in my photographs. My primary concern is that my art communicates both on a factual level, as well as on one of beauty and emotion.”

Luther Gerlach  discovered his fascination for photography at an early age while traveling around the world with his anthropologist father. Over the last 30 years he has explored early photographic processes, concentrating on those used in the first 50 years of photography. Gerlach uses his extensive collection of antique cameras and lenses for his work, with a special focus on mammoth plate cameras. His passion for the last 20 years has been the wet-plate collodion positive, ambrotypes, and tintypes. Gerlach builds his own large-format cameras, most recently The Griffiness, which measures 24 x 36 inches.

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Carleton Watkins started the tradition of using large-format-cameras when he used one to photograph Yosemite Valley in the 1860’s. “Mammoth” refers to a camera that uses a plate or film negative more than 11 x 14 inches. Gerlach owns more than 75 large-format cameras dating from the 1930’s, and some go as far back as 1840. He has more than 200 lenses, most of which fit his mammoth-plate cameras.

The “Griffiness” 24 x 36 camera uses a front standard (that holds the lens) from a studio camera that belonged to the legendary celebrity photographer George Hurrell. Gerlach used an old piece of furniture for the arms that connect the standard to the camera body. “I love it because it adds spirit to the camera. You have the fact that these incredible people sat in front of that camera (Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Greta Garbo, Gary Cooper, Carole Lombard) and you can look at it as adding poetry to the idea of the camera.”

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Luther Gerlach with two Mammoth cameras

On September 24-29 he will conduct a Wet Plate Collodion Landscapes workshop at the Photographer’s Formulary in Montana, inspired by the great photographers of the West: Timothy O’Sullivan, William Henry Jackson, and Carlton Watkins.

Please visit Luther’s website to learn more.

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Photography