10″ x 8″ Grey Ambrotype


Peter van Hal, The Netherlands

Earlier today, Peter was kind enough to speak to us about his plate Metamorphosis, which features Dutch performance artists Wilma Vermeulen (standing, in the gas mask) and Wilhelmus Sherpa (lying down, temporarily vanquished).

As Peter himself explains, ‘I know it is not everyone who will be as lucky as I am, and will know people like Sherpa.  He is a fascinating person, and has an amazing network of people.  From the moment he showed me a photo of Wilma’s Spider Woman costume, I knew I wanted to shoot her with the mask.’

It took a little bit of doing, and Peter’s first attempt at capturing the image he was after was at the recent European Collodion Weekend, which took place at Veldhoven, in The Netherlands, and was organised by Alex Timmermans (who will also be submitting a hotly anticipated plate to the Mask Series in coming weeks).  Wilma and Sherpa were at the ECW, and Peter tried several different plates, but despite these being extremely well-received by others who saw them, Peter himself was not completely satisfied.

‘The thing is, I wanted to tell a story.  I like portraits, and I often make portraits, but for the Mask Series I wanted to do more.  With the first plates I wasn’t happy with what I got.  The problem is that I don’t yet have the experience to get the results I really want, so I preferred to wait and do another shoot.’

This second attempt was undertaken yesterday, and Peter admitted to a certain degree of pressure to getting it right – as much for Wilma’s sake as his own.

‘It’s a difficult suit she’s got there.  She can’t just pull it over her head.  It has to screwed into place, and the whole process takes about twenty minutes.’

During the course of the afternoon, they ended up shooting four Mask shots, before moving on to portraits.  ‘I always want to make sure people who sit for me go away with an original plate.  I hardly ever keep any for myself, which is a bit strange I suppose.’

Something which will probably come as a surprise, is that Peter is not only a relative new-comer to wet plate collodion, but does not even have much of a photographic background.  Many years ago he was involved in dark room work, and admits to having been a good printer, but didn’t ever spend much time looking down the barrel of a lens.  He was unable to achieve the results he was after, and so became easily bored with the whole thing.  Then he discovered wet plate, and realised this was perhaps the answer he’d been searching for all along.

I put it to him that anyone looking at Metamorphosis would surely conclude he’d finally cracked it, but Peter was quick to disagree.

‘I can’t think that way about it.  I hope that people like my plate, but do you know who is coming up next?  Alex Timmermans!  And we both know he is going to completely nail it.  Everyone knows this. But do you know, it doesn’t really matter if his plate is better, or if someone else’s is.  To me, a mask is just a mask, and making something for this series is not about having a perfect plate.  With collodion, the whole process is magic, and you just have to come up with something, you know?  I want to be told stories, to know what people are thinking.  What I am really looking forward to as the series goes on is seeing people delve into the fantastical sides of their imaginations.’

One thing which is hard to imagine, is anyone coming up with a better manifesto for the series as a whole. 

Furthermore, it’s difficult to imagine anyone looking at Peter’s plate and not reaching the same conclusion he is already predicting for Alex. Namely, that he’s completely nailed it.  Clearly, Spider Woman herself thinks so too.  Wilma has already been in touch to tell him that she has given his plates pride of place in her living room – by standing them up in her coffins.

Below, is a short video interview Wilma kindly gave to the Mask Series while at the ECW, in which, among other things, she talks about the challenges of being shot in collodion.   The clip also offers a nice contrast to Peter’s plate, in that it shows how very different the costume looks in colour, and just how much menace Peter managed to capture in his story of Wilma’s Metamorphosis.

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