Featuring surprisingly natural materials, Toralf Sümmchen’s photography piece is almost otherworldly as it responds to Psalm 133.
A Song of degrees of David.
1 A Song of degrees of David. Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!
2 It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments;
3 as the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.
The series of four, eight by ten inch wet plate tintypes can be seen as a translation of the imagery of Psalm 133 into abstract photography. The pleasantness of unity is described as “precious oil […] running down the beard” and “the dew of Hermon […] falling on Mount Zion”.
Hair, wool and small pieces of cloth were frozen into a block of ice, then photographed while slowly melting from warm oil poured on the ice. Manipulating the plates during coating and developing in the darkroom resulted in streaks and random drip patterns that are flowing, permeating and condensing. The results are abstract, metaphysical, photographic objects with a foggy, atmospheric quality. There are layers of chemical marks, lines, reflections and bits of hair.
Unity, as the absence of discord is warm, pleasant and soft. It pervades everything it is getting in contact with. The warm oil is melting the ice. It is penetrating the embedded hair and fabric. The hard, cold object that captured the softness, disappears. This process of warming up, melting and penetrating is an interpretation of the language of the psalm and is re-translated with the photographic process and it’s inherent traces into a reference to the words of the psalm.
Toralf Sümmchen is a German born, Brooklyn based architect and artist. Besides, working for a world renowned architect, he is a visual artist working in drawing, painting and photography. For his photography Toralf mainly, but not exclusively, uses analogue photographic processes. He works with traditional film and instant film and has come to focus on alternative photographic processes such as wet plate collodion tintypes.
Inspired by artists like Sally Mann, John Coffer and France Scully Ostermann, he became interested in wet plate photography and attended workshops with Robyn Hasty and Ellen Susan. The wet plate collodion process is one of the oldest photographic processes, which utilizes large format cameras and a freshly prepared and sensitized metal or glass plate to create an original positive or negative photographic image.
Toralf prepares the chemicals himself following recipes from the 19th century and experiments with different techniques and parameters of the development to gain different effects. Idiosyncrasies of the process create artifacts on the plates which often become an integral part of the composition. He purposefully uses these accidents and flaws to repeat or counterpoint the photographed objects with visible traces of the chemicals and development.