You may remember Eric Lee Bowman from Greenpoint Open Studios. He was kind enough to sit down and talk in detail about his work.
Mick Theebs: When did you first realize you were an artist?
Eric Lee Bowman: Well, I always knew I was an artist. My parents were both artists and they were both raised by artists. So it's been a part of the family forever. My mom is a painter and my dad is a photographer. My grandfather was a photographer. My grandmother was a photographer and a model. We always had an art cart rolling around the apartment with paints and markers and paper and stuff. Making art was the main thing to do around my house. Making art is just part of the culture of my family.
MT: How do you choose the subjects of your photography?
ELB: I'm doing mostly portraiture with this camera. The medium I'm working with calls for portraiture. It just works very well with the wet-plate collodion process.
Eric goes deep on the Wet-Plate Collodion Process
MT: Where did you learn to operate this equipment?
ELB: When I was in high school my dad set me up with my first camera. He gave me a Nikon FE2 and I was shooting 35mm film on that for most of high school. My dad showed me how to use the camera, my grandfather showed me some stuff with it and that's where it all started. With my current camera, you can't really get glass plates for it and adapting it for sheet film would require a little bit of work. I wanted to shoot on glass plates, since that was what the camera was designed for. So I knew how to operate the camera, I just didn't have film to put inside. So, I took a photo-chemistry course at SVA and studied a number of different antiquarian photo processes from the mid-eighteen hundreds.
MT: What are some of the challenges in working with such unique equipment?
ELB: The camera has a number of light leaks in it so I usually cover the camera with a heavy fabric or a heavy dark cloth, just to keep the light leaks to a minimum. I do occasionally still get a light leak or two here and there. Working with the chemistry is fun and I take a lot of safety precautions: rubber gloves, apron, goggles, and proper ventilation is important too.
MT: What if the camera breaks? How do you find parts?
ELB: Luckily nothing has broken on this yet. Really, there isn't much that can break. The wood could crack if I bend it the wrong way, but I can glue it back together or I can have a carpenter fix it. The bellows can be replaced. I just have to be very careful with the lens. The lens is the prize piece of the equipment.
Eric goes into detail on 'the prize piece'
MT: What are your thoughts on nostalgia and history and its relationship to present culture?
ELB: I know for me, using this equipment connects me to my family. There's a family tradition in doing photography and painting. I see that a lot in my day to day experience. In my apartment, I have something like fifty thousand photographs from my grandfather that he shot. That's just part of what surrounds me every day. Occasionally I'll open up my file cabinet and pull out some photos and that's my connection to the history of photography- through the history of my family.
ERIC SHARES SOME FAMILY HISTORY
MT: And you're absolutely keeping the history of photography alive in a very concrete way. Is there many people that still use this process today?
ELB: Oh yeah, there is a big community of people still doing this. We're connected on Facebook and Instagram and we're all following each other. I think what I'm doing is a little different, using the trick photo processes I'm using. I haven't seen anyone doing anything that kind of thing.
MT: What words of advice do you have for aspiring artists?
ELB: It's important to get stuff made. Just keep making stuff all the time. I've realized recently that if I'm not making it, it's never going to exist. Art is for the most part a physical object. It's something that exists as something tangible. You can have all the good ideas in the world, but if you're not making it it doesn't exist. Ideas are all well and good, but artists keep making stuff.
Legal Disclaimer: All works above are the property of Eric Lee Bowman and are not to be not to be printed, not to be used for the promotion of a specific project, not to be used for any commercial purpose, and not to be published on any other site or in any other app without the explicit written permission of Eric Lee Bowman.
Special Thanks to Will Star who took all of the photos (that weren't direct scans) of Eric Lee Bowman and his work.