Portraits in Silver
Point Breeze studio Primal Photographic uses antique methods to craft one-of-a-kind creations.
When it comes to photography, some people like film, and others prefer digital. Some folks take authentic Polaroids or try their hand at old-timey cyanotype. But Chad Djubek and Darcy Stoltzfus do something different: They make daguerreotypes, using a method that’s almost 200 years old.
To fully appreciate Primal Photographic, the couple’s portrait studio in Point Breeze, you have to know how much effort is required to make a daguerreotype (named after Louis Daguerre in the 1830s). Instead of paper, the camera takes a copper plate coated in iodine and silver (yes, real silver). Each plate takes up to four hours to complete. The actual photograph can take from 30 seconds to eight minutes to shoot, requiring the subject to stand absolutely still as natural light pours through the windows of Primal’s renovated warehouse. Because the exposure takes so long, the moment is drawn out.
“That’s a full minute of your life,” Djubek says. “Philosophically, I find that interesting.”
Djubek uses chemicals and UV light to process the image, and Stoltzfus creates original frames for the finished works, using wood, leather, velveteen and other materials. In the end, only one copy of the photograph exists — a single piece of metal embedded in a box-like frame. You open the frame like a book, and the metal picture glints inside. The photograph is so pristine and smoothly chromed that it almost looks 3-D.
“Everything we do is completely handcrafted,” says Djubek. “Nothing is ever the same. You don’t just look at [a daguerreotype]. You interact with it.” Inspired by a 2007 visit to a New York gallery showcasing “alternative photography,” the pair decided to start their own studio. The couple divides their work evenly: Djubek takes the photos and develops them, while Stoltzfus serves as the art director and framer.
Since Primal Photographic is a new business with an obscure technique, their audience is hard to predict. But Stoltzfus believes daguerreotypes appeal to unconventional customers — and she’s excited by the prospect of widening the scope of Primal’s clients.
“[We have the] flexibility to capture less predictable subjects — such as pets, babies and children, as well as wedding portraiture,” Stolzfus says. Through the couple’s Hollywood connections — both work in the film industry by day — they’ve also shot personal portraits of Matt Damon and Frances McDormand.
“Portraiture is a lost art,” adds Djubek. “There are no choices. You only get one [copy]. It’s a very formal style.”