Hans de Kort was born in 1963 in the Netherlands. After growing up around photography, Hans attended the Royal Academy of Art, The Hague, and went on to become a professional photographer. These days, his medium of choice is ferrotype or wet plate, a 19th century photographic technique in which metal plates prepared with light-sensitive collodion are then exposed through a 16x20 inch camera. We called Hans up to ask him a few questions.
How did you get into photography?
I got my first camera when I was 6 or 7 years old. It was a big plastic toy, and it was one of those Lomo cameras that they sell now, the black with the blue top. But then it melted in the back of the car when we were on holiday. When we got back home I got another camera.
I really started photography when I started high school, at 13 or 14 years old. There was a little club at school for photography, and then by age 17 I knew I wanted to become a photographer.
Tell us about your wet plate photography and how you got started with it.
I started out 4 or 5 years ago. There was the Impossible Project, and they made the 8x10 polaroids. At the art academy I did a lot of 8x10 polaroids and other large format photos. And after that I never did it again. And then I read an article about the Polaroid factory about how they recreated the 8x10 polaroids. And I thought “oh, I want to do that again!”
Later I discovered the wet plate technique. I had been doing portraits for the previous 5 years, and when I saw wet plate, I realized that the aesthetic was exactly what I had been trying to accomplish with my digital photography. I had never heard of this technique. The art academy had an encyclopedia about all art photography processes, and when I looked there were only 4 sentences about the wet plate technique.
I started out with 8x10s but that was too small. So I started using larger format plates. A lot of my friends are photographers so I started making portraits with them. We’d make the plate together and develop it together. It’s always a lot of fun, making conversation and all of the stories that come up in the dark room.
So what do you like about film photography that you can’t get with digital?
I’m always questioning, what is a digital photograph? What is it? It’s nothing. It’s just bytes. Is it a photo if you print it? You can make one print, you can make hundreds, and they’re all identical. But with film you only have one original thing in your hands. It’s more like a painting-- there’s just one, that’s it.
You only have one shot and it has to be good. You can’t retouch it. That’s it. And everybody says, “oh, that’s a lot of work!” But no, I don’t think so. Digital photography is a lot of work. You take too many shots, and then you have to sort through them and retouch them.
What role has Instagram played in your photography career?
It’s just for gaining exposure. In the beginning when I started with wet plates, I didn’t want to digitize them at all.
But then I was invited to a big photography event here in the Netherlands, and someone from the Dutch Photo Museum called me and asked if I wanted to send some plates for that, but said they had to be digital. And I said, “Sorry, I don’t digitize them. They’re analog portraits and if you digitize them then they’re completely different.” And we had a nice talk about it, but he said, “If you get nominated for this award, then you have to digitize it for press and whatnot. You have to show something.” And then at that moment I just took iPhone shots of people holding their plates.
And later when I had a discussion with another photographer, he said, “If you want to have exposure, you have to show it! You have to digitize them, otherwise nobody will see it.” And I talked to another photographer who had been doing wet plate for 20 years, and he was invited to Paris for an exhibition, and the gallery told him, “We need digital versions, we can’t put an original plate outside of the gallery, in front of the door, to get people in.” So then I said, yeah, okay I have to digitize them. There’s no other way.
But if you see an original plate, it’s something totally different from what you see on your screen. The silver, when it hits the light, and from every angle it’s different. It’s a physical thing.
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