Industrial Profile 5/19/2015

Matt Alberts - Photographer and Creator of The LIFERS Project

When photographer Matt Alberts realized he was drifting out of touch with digital photography, he began to look for a medium that would capture the true meaning behind his work. In 2013, Matt took a class on wet collodion photography where he encountered his mentor, Quinn Jacobson, and a type of photography that he really connected with. The wet collodion process; a process  created in the 19th century involving a glass plates coated with iodized collodion and silver nitrate.

This process inspired The LIFERS Project Seasons Collection and we saw the photographs from the first part of the collection at Matt’s gallery in Hollywood, CA last month. Here, we asked Matt about how the project unfolded and what it means to be a Lifer.


How did you come up with this idea for the Seasons Collection?

The concept behind “The Seasons Collection” came as a result of collaboration between The LIFERS Project and Cadillac. The idea was to create a unique and timeless collection of “wet collodion” photographs that could showcase and bring to life the spirit of LIFERS – people who dedicated their lives to their passion.

The collection showcases the adventure driven stories of people from a variety of different locations and backgrounds that live life to the fullest.

How did the project come together?

Shortly after learning the wet collodion process in early 2013, I wanted to create a collection of portraits that was meaningful. I looked to one of my main passions, skateboarding, and the LIFERS project was born. The project started locally and soon turned into two cross-country road trips, covering over 6500 miles, during which we documented LIFERS. At the end of 2014, I connected with Cadillac, and with a shared vision we collaborated to create The Seasons Collection. This winter, two customized Escalades were delivered to my house in Denver and our team kicked-off the yearlong adventure across the US.

All in all, the journey is divided into three month-long trips, or collections, representing the different seasons that inspire LIFERS. The first collection, SNOW, featured people whose passions are driven by winter sports, such as snowboarding and skiing. For the second, SUN, we’ll travel along the West Coast to find those who are influenced by skateboarding, cycling, and other warm weather sports. For the final collection, WATER, we’ll travel through the Northeast in pursuit of capturing the surfing community as well as other water-based pursuits.

Why did you choose the action sports industry as the basis of this project?

I realized through my love of skateboarding and snowboarding that action sports attract like-minded individuals. There is a lot of crossover between the different activities and the shift in seasons often encourages people to be into multiple activities. The one common thread between all action sports is the passionate people behind them; it became a natural progression for the LIFERS project to expand beyond only skateboarding.

What criteria did you use to pick your subjects?

The criteria is simple, you have to be a LIFER. The way people become a subject in the project is through the adventures. We set off with our small team and as we travel coast to coast we end up connecting with so many different people, we have created a huge LIFERS family.

What does the wet collodion photography process entail?

First, I mix an emulsion of collodion, ether, alcohol, bromine, and iodine. Next, the emulsion is poured onto a piece of black aluminum or glass, and essentially I’ve created film. Before the film dries it submersed in a bath of silver nitrate; while inside the bath, the bromine and the iodine exchange molecules with the silver and create a silver halogen. After three minutes in the bath the plate is removed and placed in the back of my large format camera. The cap is removed and the plate is exposed via UV light and needs to return to the darkroom before it dries. Once in the darkroom, a developer consisting of mostly iron is poured over the plate and in front of your eyes you see the silver on the plate turn from crystals suspended in emulsion back to the pure metallic state. Lastly, once fixed, you are left with a super crisp, grain-less image that is made of pure silver.

When did you discover your passion for this type of photography?

I originally became interested in wet collodion photography as a kid, when my dad would show me wet plates that my third great grandfather created in his photography studio in Binghamton, New York in the mid-1800s. I looked at the plates but never really understood how they were made. Feeling frustrated with the state of digital photography and wanting to create photographs by hand, I realized I wanted to go back to the roots of photography. I enrolled in a wet plate photography class, taught by Quinn Jacobson, and we became instant friends. Through our friendship, I learned all about the process and the science behind it all. The rest is history, as they say, I’ve basically dedicated my life to wet collodion photography.

What did you hope to capture in these portraits?

The wet collodion process is known for capturing images that see beneath the skin thus exposing ones soul and capturing the real person inside, a perfect medium for LIFERS.

What was the challenge of creating and developing these prints on the road?

In past trips before our collaboration with Cadillac, we only had one vehicle towing the Airstream, so having to unpack and set up a darkroom each time wasn’t ideal, especially in bad weather and in the winter nearly impossible. Having Cadillac at our side has enabled us to bring the Airstream and our portable darkroom trailer, making the adventures not only more luxurious but easier and more accessible.

Where have you stopped so far during the SNOW leg? What stops will you be making during the SUN leg?

Here’s a full list of locations we’ll be hitting along the way. Following us at @TheLifersProject to follow along.

·         SNOW:

o    Denver, CO

o    Steamboat, CO

o    Jackson Hole, WY

o    Aspen, CO

·         SUN:

o    Orcas Island, WA

o    Seattle, WA

o    Windell’s Camp (Sandy, OR)

o    San Francisco, CA

o    The Berrics (Los Angeles, CA)

Why are you putting wet collodion photography in juxtaposition with your new school video footage?

The video is meant to document the adventures and the process. The wet collodion is for the collections and documenting LIFERS.

What does being a LIFER mean to you?

A LIFER is someone who stays true to their passions and what they love, no matter what.

Are your prints available for sale? Where can they be purchased?

Prints will be available soon at….