Robert Go | Eversley Studios
Today on the Paper Runway blog we welcome photographer
Robert Go who has recently embarked on a new, yet somehow historic
photographic journey; a journey that you too can be a part of.
How long have you been a photographer? And why did you choose photography as a career?
I learned the basics of photography when I was in high school, in the late 1980s, and have always been
making photographs since then. When I later became a print journalist, honing my photography skills
became a natural extension of what I was doing anyway. About 15 years ago, photography became
a more important part of what I was doing for a living and gradually, photojournalism replaced writing
as my main job. If there is a point to all of it, I guess it’s the fact that I enjoy telling stories and I feel that
images can do that effectively.
You seem to focus particularly on portrait photography, what is it about portraits that
you enjoy the most? I’m drawn to the human face, and despite how my friends often tease me about
being a grumpy person, I genuinely enjoy getting to know people and working with them to make images.
I believe everyone has a story, and these stories don’t have to be dramatic or “big” to be of significance.
I seek out these kinds of stories and they’re always present on the faces of those who have lived them.
Sometimes I feel as if I’ve gotten to the “nuggets” of a person after I’ve made a portrait of them.
And sometimes, those same people could recognise what I think I’ve just done. And those moments
are the most rewarding for me.
What has been your most memorable/enjoyable experience during your career
as a photographer? And why? I suppose this would have to be Sri Lanka in the first few years following
the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. I’d arrived in the country in August that year and had just started to get to
know it and its people when the tsunami happened. In Sri Lanka alone, the death toll was somewhere near
40,000 with an estimate of around half a million people displaced from their homes. Over the next three years,
I spent a significant portion of my time working to document the recovery process. It always struck me that
despite having very little and despite living comparatively tougher lives, these survivors have a sense of
resilience and for the lack of a better word … a spirit …than many of us. Laughter was very important
and people seemed very free with their smiles even if hardship is all around. Maybe that’s the secret to a
good life? This seems to be a common thread that I’ve observed: In some of the world’s poorest communities,
there are always easy laughter and smiles.
Recently, you established Eversley Studio to focus on wet plate collodion photography.
Can you tell us a little about why you made this move? I’ve always been attracted to working with
film and in a traditional darkroom. With digital, although it’s hugely convenient and efficient and easy,
there’s something missing for me. After a while, I realized that for work, I’d go digital, but for fun, I’d be
shooting film. It might be a Lomo LC-A with expired films or a Contax G2 with rolls of black-and-white
film or my lovely Hasselblad with some Portra. But that’s when I’d be having fun and getting rewards out
of every exposure. It might have to do with how much slower film work needs to be, and how every frame
has a cost factor. I’ve known about wet plate collodion for a while, but only decided to seriously workshop
and explore it earlier this year. It’s such a different way of making photographs, but at the same time,
the concepts of photography haven’t really changed in all the time since wet plate collodion was the main
way of making photographs. The process hasn’t changed, but it has simply become more convenient
over time. I guess with digital, it’s a lot more technology that’s doing the talking, whereas with wet-plate
collodion, a little bit of magic is required to get interesting images.
Tell us about the tintype photography process. Collodion was invented in the 1840s and was
initially used as a way to protect wounds. When poured onto a surface, the liquid quickly dries and forms
a “skin” that can close up wounds and keep bandages in place. An Englishman called Frederick Scott Archer
took this material and began to experiment with it for photographic purposes. He never patented the process
and introduced wet-plate collodion as a photographic technique in 1851. Scott Archer died penniless in 1857,
but the technique he invented became hugely popular. The process was significantly simpler, cheaper and
more effective than the daguerreotype, the photographic process it replaced, and as a consequence,
photography became available to a wider audience. The American Civil War was so well documented,
at least photographically, because of the existence of wet-plate collodion. Very briefly, the process involves
the pouring of collodion that has had salts added to it onto a plate of metal or glass to make a film base.
That plate is then submerged in a bath of silver nitrate and the chemical reaction that takes place inside
that tank turns the plate light sensitive. The plate is then placed inside a large format view camera where
a photographic exposure could be made. After that, the plate is developed, fixed and dried. If the plate is
a “keeper,” the collodion artist then varnishes it using a liquid made out of the resin of the Sandarac tree,
which grows in Africa, alcohol and lavender oil.
What brings customers to purchase a photographic experience by Eversley Studios?
The best way to answer that would be by describing what I offer: A handcrafted photograph that is a one
of a kind, that is archival, that is referential to an older period in human history, and that is a little magical
in nature. I mainly use plates made from aluminum that has a black enamel finish on one side. These produce
a positive image, and there is no negative for each plate. From start to finish, my plates need to remain wet,
which explains the name for the process. And those who model for me get to experience almost every aspect
of the process, which altogether takes anywhere between 10 and 15 minutes.
I am offering this kind of photography to the public because I believe there are people out there who value
handcrafted items. It’s a contrast to today’s mass-market, hyper-consumerism mentalities. Plus…
the process can produce photographs that are visually interesting. My exposures are long and can be
anywhere between three and ten seconds depending on the conditions I have to work with as I make
the photographs. People have to remain as still as they can. In a way, each collodion session is like
a little trip back in time.
What is the best thing about owning your own business?
I guess it’s the freedom to choose what to do and how to do it. The challenge is to find something that
people can tap into, that people can appreciate enough to the point that they’d want to take advantage
of the products and services that you’re offering.
What enlivens your creativity day in, day out? I love people watching. I find interesting interactions
happening all the time and all around me. There are always stories there, and I think this one of the
things that drives me.
What makes you happy? A good roast-pork bun. It’s a good thing I live in Melbourne, where there are a
few places that make some really excellent buns. In seriousness … Many things make me happy, but I
suppose in the context of what we’re talking about, I should say that finding unique things or concepts
that people have put some thought into … that people have put some passion and energy into …
is very rewarding. I guess it’s something that I want to show to others right now in connection with my
collodion plates. I love doing them, and I want that passion to be infectious to others.
What is your favourite paper product? I stumbled upon a website with patterns for pinhole cameras
made out of paper and I’ve made a few of them. They are very cool and obviously inexpensive, and they
let people experiment with alternative photographic processes. In many ways, these represent ways in
which people are trying to experiment with photography and to find alternatives to the digital process,
and for me that’s something that adds value to photography.
Which other photographers/artists inspire you? Sebastiao Salgado is a Brazilian photojournalist
who has produced some of the most important stories I’ve seen. I think he’s extremely dedicated to his
subjects and their stories, and that passion shows through in the pictures he makes. Another idol for me
is August Sander, a German documentary and portrait photographer. If you look at his pictures,
you not only see his subjects but also feel a sense of the time and the place that had been captured
in those photographic frames.
What advice would you give someone starting out in photography? I wouldn’t presume, really,
to give advice to anyone. I can share what I like to do instead. I look at the works of others very often,
and the process can be somewhat meditative for me. I’m not looking to criticise, but mostly to appreciate.
I think by looking, we also learn. There are two other things that I value, and these aren’t just useful in the
photographic sense, but also in the everyday: I ask questions because sometimes I get interesting answers,
and I never hesitate to admit that I don’t know something.
What is next for Robert Go/Eversley Studios? I have some interesting plans for the studio in the
coming months. In addition to private commissions taken at my studio, I’m developing portable collodion
sessions that would suit being a part of corporate events, parties and other public occasions. The idea is
that as the main event is happening, I would have a little corner where I can make collodion plates for
subjects to take home with them at the end of the events. It’s like a photobooth concept, except it’s
entirely chemical and even more old school.
How can people be a part of Eversley Studios?
I’m at 0431 779 191 and can be emailed at email@example.com.
The website for Eversley Studio is www.eversleystudio.com