Ken Merfeld owns and operates a commercial / fine art photography studio in Culver City, California where he photographs fashion, advertising, portrait, and celebrity assignments (www.merfeldphotography.com). His work has appeared in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Mademoiselle, Angelino, Zoom, Black and White, and Los Angeles magazines …
Prior to his work in the world of Wet-Plate Collodion, Ken has worked on a personal portrait project (traditional silver prints) for more than 20 years which includes: dancers, bikers, people with their pets, autistic children, “little people”, transvestites, identical twins, women wearing masks …
In response to the rapidly moving electronic image world, as well as his inherent desire to keep his traditional darkroom alive, Merfeld has chosen to embrace the ultimate, historical, hands-on technique of Wet-Plate Collodion (originally known as the “Black Art”) from the 1860’s. Influenced by the 19th. Century portraits of Julia Margaret Cameron, whereby a single defining exposure is made on a piece of glass and processed immediately, Ken has re-defined his continuing world of emotional portraiture.
Merfeld teaches photography part time at Art Center, College of Design, in Pasadena, Ca., does seminars for Julia Dean Photography Workshops in Venice Beach, Ca., and conducts Portrait Seminars out of his studio in Culver City four times a year. Ken also has a portfolio critique/review (see “Photo Soup”) service by appointment, also operated from his studio.
So he won’t go absolutely crazy thinking, creating, looking at, and discussing visuals, Ken also plays an expert game of Pétanque, loves to play Djembe drums, and aspires to learn to play a blues harmonica one day.
« I have been an aficionado of the traditional black and white darkroom and have shot portraits for many years. While the world is moving very quickly into the world of electronic image making, I wanted to explore a new method of expression, a different way into the heart of my subjects. I shoot digital (and film) in the commercial world but have also chosen to slow down and work in the original photographic technique of applying chemistry by hand to glass and tin, longer exposures, and period piece lenses. There is an elegant simplicity and purity to 19th. Century photography. The Wet-Plate Collodion process, is illusive, somewhat unpredictable, enchanting, and has a life of chemical interpretation all it’s own. It is the most intimate of photographic experiences, requiring a psychological exchange of intellect and emotions. This collaboration renders handcrafted heart and soul portraits of undeniable truth, becoming a revelation of the heart rather than a performance by an individual, while the plate’s subtle and provocative aura draws the viewer in.
I believe that interesting people make interesting portraits and I enjoy the dichotomy of man as it is revealed in a collaborative venue of trust. Every person embodies a range from strength to weakness in their persona. To tap into this inner truth rather than a façade, to embrace honest emotion over a flight of fantasy, and to construct this provocative truth on a simple piece of glass is part of what the Wet-Plate Collodion process is about. The world we live in is not perfect, nor are the people who inhabit it, and neither is this chemical process. Each plate is unique and embraces imperfection in its interpretation.
There is something magical and extremely challenging about capturing someone’s essence with a single exposure, as opposed to rolls and rolls of film, or filling up digital media cards. The collodion process is simple, yet complex; beautiful, yet imperfect; classic yet timeless; universal yet individual. It yields opera of the most personal kind.
It is what I must do. » Ken Merfeld.