By Shannon Gallagher
Ted Preuss discovered his love for the camera at age 7, when he began taking photos on family vacations. After high school, he began working as a photographer’s assistant. Despite having no formal arts education, Preuss has achieved an enduring career in the field of photography. Preuss primarily works with 8 x 10 large format vintage film cameras, several of which are over 100 years old. He has a Deardorff that was purchased at a Sotheby’s auction, and had previously been used to shoot Playboy centerfolds. Although he has explored digital photography, it does not appeal to him. “I enjoy film development and printing- and for what I’m doing, digital doesn’t interest me. I have nothing against it, but the process I use (wet plate palladium printing) is a vintage technique developed in the mid-1800s. I use this technique because for my figurative work, I’m going for a classic, timeless aesthetic. I want the viewer to be unable to discern the time period simply by looking at the photo.”
The photographer has a darkroom in his home, as well as a separate studio space. His process is a multi-step process that requires serious precision and attention to detail. The darkroom must be at a specific humidity level, the photo paper must sit in the room for an extended period of time, and then the palladium is brushed onto the paper. It must dry for 12 hours, and then Preuss takes the paper from his home darkroom to his studio to do the actual printing. He uses this method because humidifying both rooms simultaneously would be an arduous task. “Printing is the most challenging part [of my artistic process]. It depends on the humidity, and many other variables. Many things have to come together to get it just right, to get perfect brushstrokes [of palladium]. I try to make it flawless, and although I should let go a little, I just can’t.”
Preuss, who originally worked as an architectural photographer, started making more portraiture and figurative work when he began exploring photography as a fine art medium. “I thought that since I was going to foray into fine art, I would try something I hadn’t really done before, something that I was uncomfortable with. The work is similar to the architectural photographs in that I am still very concerned with line and shape, but with the figurative work, I’m using the human body to convey that. Many of my images are mainly about the lines and forms, versus the actual person.”
Preuss interviews the models before beginning a shoot, to get a sense of what they find interesting. He does this to capture the personality and get a sense of who she is. “It’s a collaboration between us, I do not want the work to be only about me.” He also visits antique shops, rummage sales, and flea markets in search of new props to be used in the work. He visits galleries to see what other artists are creating, and he is always listening to music in the studio and the darkroom. Preuss has continued to explore his craft by enrolling in safety workshops for working with the chemicals necessary for the wet plate palladium process he uses, as well as going through old photography books.
“I like to see what other photographers have done in the past, their techniques on shooting and printing. It challenges me to try new things. Lately, I’m spending more time reading online forums and talking to other photographers on Facebook groups. I’ve also slowed down my pace. If I’m walking down the street, I look at things a little closer, thinking about composition.” Preuss also spends time at the Art Institute of Chicago. “They have a wonderful study room for photography. Portfolios are available for people to go through. It’s been a lot of fun, seeing old print methods, not to mention the physical prints, from the 1800s and early 1900s. It’s a great resource.”
In the near future, he envisions his work heading in a slightly different direction. “I’ve been moving more towards faces and portraits versus lines and shapes lately. I’m more interested in the subject lately than with the lines and shapes created by the body, which is where I started [with the figure]. I’m also planning on doing more location work- outdoors, with models. I want to do more storytelling with my work.”