Denis Krieg of wetplatedreams.com
We talk to Denis Krieg who runs wetplatedreams.com, a specialist photography business that sells antique lenses, cameras and other specialist equipment. He sells right across Europe, America and the rest of the world.
By Christopher Osborne.
Denis Krieg of wetplatedreams.com
“My wet plate story began in 2013”, says Denis Krieg. “I watched Ian Ruhter make his huge plates through America, and the magic of the wet plate process caught my eye. My interest in photography developed while I was still at art school, where I did study painting. However, the thing that bothered me most about photography was the fact that the final image was a reproduction, and hence an abstraction of the moment when it was taken. Later I became interested in Polaroids made with old Land cameras. The ones that used peel-apart pack film, because the final image offered a uniqueness, that was significant for me. Of course, the limitation of Polaroids is the size and the room for modification. I loved to use genuine Polaroid film. Even then it was expired and often over twenty years old. Only a small portion of those did produce an image at all, and most of the time it was oversaturated or with funky colour effects, but I liked the ‘experimental’ feel of that”.
“Making Ambrotypes on black glass allowed me to make unique one-off images that were special”.
“It was a year before I started making wet plate images. It took a personal crisis that included many personal and professional setbacks. I bought a large format camera and spent many weeks and months on research. Making wet plates was a kind of therapy back then. It takes concentration, a lot of time and energy, but at the end of the day when you hold the plate in your hands, you might be able to say: ‘here is something, that was not in this world this morning, and now it is here to stay. I found that helped me through one of the lowest points in my life”.
“S & M” by Denis Krieg
“The first plate I made was a photograph of my Polaroid Land camera. It was not technically perfect as it was badly poured. But it was there. Deep inside I knew back then that I wanted to use the wetplate process for art projects and also offer portraits for a living. I saw myself as a professional photographer and an entrepreneur. But I did not have the skills to support this venture. So, for over a year, I did offer free portrait sessions. This is how I built up a portfolio. I shot friends. Only then, when I felt that my skills are on the right level, I began to charge for my work”.
“I also did work for art exhibitions. Portraits and fine art plates were happening simultaneously. I was making conceptual images, layering several images to create a 3D installation in space, or I modified the collodion layer for experimental effects”.
“I did acquire lenses from eBay. I was not using expensive lenses for my own work back then for the simple reason, that I couldn’t afford them. I was using German projection lenses most of the time. These are quite good, given what they cost. I made mounting rings for them and started selling them on eBay. Sales started to take off and so I modified more lenses. And this is how WetPlateDreams began”.
“Most of the lenses that I stock today are 100-150 years old. It is crazy to think of how good a condition these lenses are in given their age”. I have noticed that lenses quite often have the Waterhouse stops (think manually inserted apertures) missing. I asked Denis why he does not have replacements manufactured. His reply was quite straightforward. “I simply have not found anyone who can manufacture them yet”.
An element from a Darlot A lens from Paris.
I asked Denis about his customer profile. I was interested in whether his lenses end up with collectors or with practising photographers. “It is like shades of grey”, Denis explains. “Quite a large amount do go to active wet plate photographers. It is equally true that some wet platers own twenty lenses or even more. In the end, I hope that every lens or camera that goes through my hands will be used again in the future. As much as I appreciate museum pieces, I really like the thought, that those insanely well-made instruments are being used again”.
“Wet Plate Dreams” had its best trading years in 2020 and 2021 and it was during this period that the business became an established brand. Denis puts this down to people having more time on their hands.
A Voigtländer No 9 lens.
“I remember how confusing it was to find the right gear when I started”, Denis recalls. “Many of my customers ask me for advice before a purchase, and I try to guide them as much as I can. It is very easy to accidentally buy a part-complete lens or even the wrong lens for the job since many sellers on eBay or other platforms do not know much about the lenses or cameras they are selling. I always start by asking about the photographer’s basic needs. Is the lens going to be used for portraits or landscapes? What camera is it going to be used with? Most of the time I provide a knowledge service with each purchase, and that is already included in the final pricing”.
I asked Denis about his own artistic practice. “For the last year, I have slowed down with my art projects and wet plate work. Running Wetplatedreams is very time-consuming. It became more difficult to find authentic lenses recently, more and more people did start on their wet plate journey in the last couple of years, but the number of lenses was and is always limited. Each year I spend quite some time travelling to Photographica shows in Paris, Vienna and throughout Europe, in search of new items. I am happy with this situation right now though. I do not feel that I am missing out on something. In the last eight years, I was able to visit many fellow wet plate shooters across the world and accumulate an incredible amount of knowledge and hands-on experience when it comes to antique lenses and cameras. I get a lot of positive feedback from my customers, and wet plate legends like Quinn Jacobson, Christian Klant and Markus Hofstätter recommend my web shop to their students. I take this as an honour and I’m trying to offer the best possible service to the wet plate community, that is my greatest motivation”.
Images © Denis Krieg 2023.
You might also be interested in this previous SilvergrainClassics article on Austrian photographer Markus Hoffstaetter and his Dallmeyer 3b lens at https://silvergrainclassics.com/en/2021/03/markus-hofstaetter-the-dallmeyer-3b-lens-and-inspired-friday-focus/