006 / 07 November 2014 / ARTICLES
In a world where the internet and digital technology reigns, there is something to be said about slowness. Billie Shaker is one of the rare individuals who understands this. A portrait and fashion photographer based in Brooklyn, New York, Billie combines traditional and modern techniques to investigate the relationship between the printing method and the accessibility of the image, raising questions about the influence different photographic processes have on viewers’ engagement with fashion. Billie spoke with us about her approach and why for her slowing down means moving ahead.
Sabrina Tamar: Besides 35mm film, you also shoot with some older and more alternative photo processes like opalotypes and platinum prints. For those who are unfamiliar could you elaborate on these techniques? How did you learn them?
Billie Shaker: The two alternative processes that I’ve focused on over the last several years are Opalotypes and Platinum printing. Opalotypes use the same process as tintypes, the only difference is that the tin is white rather than black. The white gives the print a milkier, lighter quality.
Platinum printing was first used in the 1830’s. For me, the beauty of platinum printing is in the tonal range, and in the inconsistencies you get from hand coating the paper. For this process, the negative has to be the same size as your print, so traditionally, you would be shooting with 4x5 or 8x10 film. I combine traditional and modern techniques and make my own digital negatives from 120 film.
I learned these processes at The School of Visual Arts, from Lisa Elmaleh. Lisa is an incredible photographer and teacher.
ST: Analog photography has become somewhat mainstream the past few years. How do you feel about this? What is your opinion on “lomography”?
BS: The reason I photograph with film is because I love the process. It slows me down. I love the rich quality, the inconsistencies, and that slight sense of relief I always feel when the film actually comes out.
Personally, I’m not fond of the quality of lomography film, but I am happy that people are returning to shooting with film. In this digital era, we’ve become so accustomed to instant gratification that I think anything that slows people down is a positive thing.
ST: Photography is considered a relatively democratic art form. However, many of the processes you use are rare and time-consuming. How do you see their significance? Is their obscurity part of the appeal for you? Do you find there a value in "slowness"?
BS: This ‘slowness’ plays a big role in my work. I can be a bit messy and impatient, so having these steps is really helpful.
I have always been interested in how an image transforms. Each stage of the process alters the image, and using more time consuming processes allows me the opportunity to play a part in each phase of it’s evolution.
Recently, I have been exploring how I can fuse these traditional processes with contemporary elements. This is the direction I am focused on for my next series of platinum prints.