A labour of love


by Christopher Osborne.

Markus Hofstätter & Hans Gerlach collaborate on wet plate collodion food photography

Portrait photographer and YouTuber Markus Hofstätter posted another vlog last night. But this was a very different vlog. Firstly, there were no portraits – (well this is not quite true because Markus couldn’t help but sneak in a plate of Hans at the end). And secondly, this vlog was about a shoot made with food photographer and columnist Hans Gerlach.

I call Markus from Dubai. He is always upbeat, and today he is even more excited than usual.

“Well, let me start by saying that I am not a food photographer”. Markus’ hands are on the move and are gesturing somewhere between defence and an apology. At the same time, Markus is smiling like Lewis Carol’s Cheshire Cat. This smile requires a spoiler alert – this may not be Markus’ normal genre of photography, but the results are stunning.

Markus and Hans met through an eBay transaction. Markus was buying an accessory for the huge Cambo large format camera stand that he has in his studio. They started talking about how food would look when photographed in the wet plate collodion process. The orthographic nature of the collodion emulsion would see red’s turn to black, and blues to white.

Markus and Han’s had talked through the shoot several times beforehand. The results are a testament to the planning.

A marathon shoot followed. As Markus readied his studio and darkroom, Hans prepared the food.

All of the plates were made using a 13x18cm Mentor camera with a 250mm Zeiss Tessar lens. This choice was made for practical reasons, quite simply, it is easier to manage a camera of this size pointing down at the subject. Each scene was lit by a combination of Hensel power packs generating a massive 9000Ws of light!

The shoot started with a simple platter of bread and spring onion.  A couple of plates later both Markus and Hans were understandably happy with the results.

They moved on through other dishes, and except for a couple of scratched plates, all was going well. Markus made a minor modification to the plate holder, and the scratches disappeared. Then disaster struck. A series of “bad plates” followed. The wet plate process is notoriously fickle. Markus worked his way through the problem with a change of collodion, a change of developer before finally determining that the silver bath was exhausted. “I always have two of everything in this process. Sometimes three of everything”, Markus explains.

Once this problem had been resolved, Hans prepared exquisite dishes, which they continued to shoot. By the end of the shoot, they had made 40 plates of which there are 20 that they are happy with.

They had started at 10 am and did not see their beds until 4 am the next morning.

There is no doubt that Markus & Hans have made some extraordinary images. I am trying to rationalize why the results of this shoot are so exciting. I ask Markus if he can put me in touch with Hans, and 30 seconds later, Hans is also on our call. He is sitting in an ultra-modern commercial kitchen that looks as though it is straight from a design magazine. Another chef fusses over a dish in the background.

Markus did make this portrait of Hans

I asked Hans what he had taken away from the shoot. “This is a photographic journey of love”, he explains. “The food is all made by hand with the finest ingredients. The photographs are hand made with love too. And the fact that the way that colours are represented changes with this process adds a unique dimension to the work”.

It is early days in this project, but I can close my eyes and imaging a gallery space with these plates hanging on the wall.

As I contemplate this I wonder if the practical decision to shoot on 13x18cm plates has other positive consequences. In a world where many gallery walls are adorned with large prints, I wonder if the personal experience of looking at an image the size of a bread plate will not further strengthen the connection between the viewer and the work.

Images © Markus Hofstätter 2021.

You can see more of Markus Hofstätter’s work at https://markus-hofstaetter.at. Markus made this video during the shoot. https://youtu.be/Lmks5zdpv0E. There is an article on Markus’ portrait work here https://silvergrainclassics.com/en/2021/03/markus-hofstaetter-analog-portraits-friday-focus/

Hans Gerlach can be found at www.foodundtext.de

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