Rawlins Oil Prints
2019 WINNER: Bostick & Sullivan, The Handmade Photograph: Contemporary Photographers working in Historic Processes. The first two images in the slideshow tied for first place out of 1500 entrants. Complete works can be seen and purchased at Photo Historica in Santa Fe, NM, July 5 - 7, 2019.
2018 FEATURED EXHIBITOR & EDUCATOR: International Analog Photographic Festival, Revala’T, in Vilassar de Dalt, Spain.
Scenes from the salvage yard
Note: The images are 100% handmade and none have been digitally rendered, except to scan and present here.
Jeff Michalek’s sensitive eye and empathetic spirit offer the viewer a window into curious and private moments of humanity. He no longer believes he needs to go far to find great photographs and with that, each scene before you is curated onsite at his studio, which is nestled inside a salvage yard and art center in Gunnison, Colorado at South Main Studios.
A patient tinkerer by nature, Jeff has been driven to explore the earliest photographic processes as they evolved throughout the mid-nineteenth century and into the beginning of the twentieth century.
In his search to find the right process for his aesthetic, he tested ambrotypes, tintypes, salt prints, albumen, cooper plate photogravure, colloidal-chloride, kallitypes, van dykes, gum bichromate, and carbon transfers. Each process, its own blend of hand crafted chemistry, applied with a delicate balance of quantity and exposure. The consistent element in each process is the use of natural sunlight to expose the image onto the glass negative and thus creates the ultimate challenge for the photographer in attempt to track and adapt to natural elements of sunlight, temperature and humidity. These variables can change quickly and each one has an impact on the quality of the negative. And this is only the beginning…
Each image presented here starts at the hardware store with purchase of large sheets of glass which are then cut to fit the film holder on his handmade 12x20 camera. Each image is the exact size of the negative, with ZERO enlargement or digital enhancement. Once the glass if prepped and cleaned, chemistry is blended and applied to create the glass negative.
Jeff’s surrealist narrative is centered around situations and scenes that evoke the viewers curiosity and explore their own version of the story before them. Once Jeff has created a scene and staged the model, he then exposes the image to the glass. Due to the reliance on natural elements it can take up to 3 negatives to get one that is just right. Each negative can take up to 30-minutes from start to finish, with the model sitting completely still for an exposure time of 6-12 seconds.
From here Jeff then hand prepares watercolor paper with gelatin, which will serve as the base to transform the negative to a positive image. This next step also requires UV light and is created in a controlled light box where the glass negative imposes a relief onto the water color paper. This second exposure can take up to one hour and as it only creates an embossment or relief of the image on the gelatin surface, there is still one more step.
To create the positive image on the now exposed gelatin surface, the paper is soaked in cold water for an hour to allow the gelatin to swell, and then ink is applied by hand via roller and brush to reveal the photograph. This technique, known as the Rawlins Oil Printing Process, lends an incredible amount of control and detail to the finished image. It is the blend of photography and lithography in this process, that captured Jeff’s passion and serve as the medium for his narrative and aesthetic. Each final handcrafted print is an original and can take anywhere from 5-30 hours to create.
During the 2018 Revela’T Interntational Analog Photography Festival, Jeff Michalek joined us as a the renowned specialist in Oil Printing (Rawlins Process). He delivered an introductory course and public demonstration, which were very well received as his human warmth is as big as his artistic talent. As a contributing exhibitor, everyone was very drawn to the delicate nature of his works.
610 ARTS COLLECTIVE:
Jeff’s work is exquisite and professionally composed. We had great success with his show, but beyond that, Jeff was amazing at working with us to assemble a live demonstration of his process. The connection with the audience and willingness to go the extra mile through a demonstration translated to the financial success of the exhibit and most importantly the community’s enthusiasm for the work. If only every artist could do this, we would be untouchable! Jeff is amazing. I highly recommend him as an artist, exhibitor, and presenter.