Last November, photographer Matt Alberts loaded up his Airstream with three of his pals, a stock of chemicals, and a large format camera. The foursome took off south and hit Route 66, riding it all the way to California to document the “people who have dedicated their lives to skateboarding.”
Alberts utilized a mobile darkroom and wet collodion processing, a 163-year-old photographic technique, to create portraits that are flush with a delicate glow and hypnotically detailed. The product, Lifers, is an ongoing series and New York City is the last stop on its second iteration, an East Coast road trip.
Alberts’s photos are truly arresting (see above); you can ogle them, and the artist, up close tonight at Superchief Gallery in the Lower East Side. Alas, the 1973 Airstream Land Yacht did not make its way to the city. “We didn’t bring it to New York — obviously, that would have been crazy,” he said. Though Alberts and co. are still in the process of putting together the East Coast series, portraits from their Route 66 trip will be on full display at the gallery until June 11.
Lifers is deeply meaningful to Alberts, who’s been skateboarding and taking photos for something like 23 years (he’s about to turn 33). For the project, he picked up a photo process used by his great-great-grandfather, a photographer in Binghamton, New York in the 1850s. “I’m blessed to have 40 or so tintypes he made of my family members,” Alberts says.
Digital photography started to consume Alberts as a professional photographer, and he found that he missed the visceral experience of darkroom processing. And really there’s nothing like slipping a seemingly blank piece of photo paper into a developer bath, agitating, and watching an image emerge. But opportunities to shoot film for Alberts’ work were few and far between. “People appreciate film so little right now,” he said. “So when I saw someone on an Internet video mixing the chemistry I was like, I need to know how to do this.”
Alberts said he got in touch with Quinn Jacobson, also a Denver-based photographer– “he’s kind of regarded as the godfather of the process”– so he could get serious about learning wet collodion processing. Though the process is difficult and requires precision and a solid understanding of chemistry, Alberts only worked as Jacboson’s understudy for just under a year before deciding to venture out on his own. “I wouldn’t say that I’ve perfected it by far,” he laughed.
But it’s clear Alberts is dedicated to the hands-on work of wet collodion. “This project has been pretty non-stop just between the chemistry, everything has to be just right, and there’s a lot of work in between shoots,” he said. “I mix everything myself.” He rattled off all the chemicals he uses to develop and make his own emulsion, some of which are pretty dangerous: potassium cyanide, bromium, ether, potassium iodide.
The traveling aspect has been another learning experience for Albert, who said he was really impressed by the level of support he received from people across the country, some of which he already knew and the rest were connections throughout the skating community. “What’s blown my mind about this project the most is that it’s like a real brotherhood of friends.”
Be sure to check out Matt Alberts’ series Lifers at Superchief Gallery, 9 Clinton Street, LES. Opening reception starts at 6 and goes till 10pm.