Like many trailblazers before him, Maxime Zhang embodies a sense of adventure, with an artistic passion that rivals Annie Leibovitz’s, albeit for a different subject. As a painter and entrepreneur, he is no stranger to hard work, evident on the painstaking research he undertook, and the results, for his dry plate photography. His recent exhibition in Paris revived interest in the delicate yet cumbersome technique by presenting images popular with the international crowd, clearly captured with refined sensibilities.
What started your interest in dry plate photography?
France is the birthplace of photography; often in photography museums or galleries, there are dry plate photography pieces, and the dream of building these dry plate photography collections began since I started collecting old cameras.
What surprised you the most during your research into the technique?
During the production process of recording the ever-changing space, a little change in the chemical ingredients will let you reveal a charming result, changing the perspective on human life.
How do you get the subject in front of the camera onto the resulting image in just the way you want?
Every photographer using this traditional technique knows that if you take only one picture of the subject, you might lose your desired result – those using more modern technique usually don’t understand this; only after moments of experimentation, understanding and having confidence in the technique, you will get the effect that you want.
Do you look for certain “rightness”, maybe from the subject or the composition, which will assure you of a beautiful result?
I am very strict on composing the image; I try to capture the image without the need for much editing, so that despite the long, tiring process such as carrying big, heavy equipment, it will still be a fulfilling and satisfying one.
What subject has been the most difficult to handle?
The problem is often in capturing the energy of the image; dry plate photography captures in black and white, and often skin colors cannot be captured as intricately. The low sensitivity makes it difficult to take in small details and dynamic forms.
What other subjects, in or outside China, would you like to capture with this technique?
The resulting works can be used to emphasize simplicity; it is suitable for photographing subjects like ancient buildings and the elderly.
What are you trying to convey with your photographs?
Improving standardization of dry plate photography is a significant issue, and with different lengths of exposure, from 1/100 of a second to 45 minutes, the images reflect different degrees of sensitivity; all these express love and dedication for the profession.
Are there any more art forms you look forward to explore?
There is no limit to art photography; I look forward to exploring the different opportunities within dry plate photography.