Conservation, Archiving & Film Exhibitions with Artist Lydia Lutz


We first has the chance to get to know Lydia in a 2020 interview about her art-centered life and her penchant for working skillfully with her hands, from classic cars to musical instruments and of course, film photography.

In 2021, we also had a quick chat with her about instant photos and got a glimpse of her archival work. In this catch up interview with Lydia, we found her even more deeply entangled in the craft, from conservation, archiving, to exhibiting and venturing into her own film photography business.

Credits: Lydia Lutz

Hi, Lydia! Welcome back to the magazine. Can you tell us about some major things you’ve been up to since our last interview with you in the middle of 2021?

A lot has changed since we last spoke! In fall 2021 I moved to the gorgeous city of Bath, England to pursue a Master’s Degree in Heritage management. Many foggy mornings were spent in class at Corsham Court, an Elizabethan manor built in 1582 whose grounds are fiercely guarded by a flock of peacocks.

I started training to become a conservator of photographic materials and took an internship working on the Singer Glass Plate Collection which documents the creations of the Singer Art Metal Works Foundry in Frome.

Negative owned by the Frome Heritage Museum

From ecclesiastical iron works to statues, the collection consists of about 3,000-plus collodion glass plate negatives that required cleaning, re-housing, cataloguing, digitizing, and mending in some cases.

After graduation, I decided to stay in the UK and continue to seek opportunities and plant roots here. Between freelance conservation projects, gallery jobs, and creating and exhibiting my photographs, I work across a lot of different fields relating to photography, which never fails to excite me!

Negative owned by the Frome Heritage Museum

And has your approach to photography changed since then?

My life has changed so much in such a short period which has influenced a shift in my work away from the studio. I now mostly document my life, events, work, adventures, and friends! Working on others’ archives has made me appreciate how life is celebrated through photography. I have been more willing to be in front of the camera because of this and have a new appreciation for portraiture.

Working in the heritage sector has also greatly affected the mediums and materials I use in all my photographic processes. I now have a deeper understanding of film bases and what causes them to degrade, which has completely changed my approach to organising, packaging, framing, and storing my prints and negatives. I use developing chemicals and varnishes that are not only more sustainable than their predecessors but also increase the stability and longevity of the photograph.

Negative owned by the Frome Heritage Museum

You were also able to exhibit photos from your archival work for a photography festival. What was your exhibit ‘Found Archives: Life in USSR Ukraine’ about?

In January 2023, I purchased a mystery box of negatives online from a man in Ukraine and was surprised to find an unknown family’s vast photographic collection inside. As I watched the family grow and age with each envelope of negatives scanned, I became invested in uncovering more of their story. From family portraits to political marches, this archive has a wide range of truly magnificent images.

‘Found Archives: Life in USSR Ukraine’ was recently exhibited in the 2023 Photo|Frome Festival of Photography and has caught the attention of other photographic societies, international exhibitions, and PhD programmes.

Credits: Lydia Lutz

Speaking about your current work, we’d also like to wish you the best on your new photography business venture! What made you want to pursue this path in photography using the collodion process in particular?

Thank you! After working on a large collection of collodion glass plate negatives, I started to explore the process deeper and loved the stunning one-of-a-kind physical heirlooms it creates. The combination of heritage-based and creative photographic work has greatly impacted my well-being. Through this, I have created a community, connected with new people, helped to connect others, and found a home in a new country.

Credits: Lydia Lutz

I would like to help others have similar experiences with heritage crafts by honoring the 19th-century process of wet and dry plate collodion that was avidly used in my area of Somerset to document cultural, creative, industrial and technological innovation and perseverance.

I have always enjoyed detailed, tactile processes, and with wet plate collodion I appreciate the ability to choose my film base (i.e. tin or glass), hand coat the plate with collodion and watch the image appear in the trays. The mysterious and unpredictable quality of collodion can be equally as mesmerizing as it is frustrating. I'm still learning and testing different types of chemistry and lighting to find a reliable working method.

For example, two recent plates looked quite a bit different in the trays and drying phase than they did after the varnish cured. I still like them, but it was definitely a learning experience to have some chemistry and silver bath issues and then to put my metaphorical conservator’s hat on to investigate what went wrong and how to best treat them as they are now!

Credits: Lydia Lutz

Your works were also exhibited last year. How did it go and can you tell us about the themes you explored in your conceptual work?

It was fantastic! It was my first time having any work exhibited in the UK and it was at The Mount Without in Bristol, the most breathtaking event and exhibition venue, which was very exciting.

In the gothic-themed group exhibition ‘Beneath the Veil’, they exhibited an array of my memento mori and vanitas-inspired work including the skull and chicken feet still lives that we have discussed in my previous interviews! The main body of work, which also was included as the exhibition poster, was my lesser-shown photographs titled ‘Athena Reminiscing’ that I created back in 2019.

Credits: Lydia Lutz

It’s a group of photos I’m really proud of but for some reason haven’t shared much, I suppose because they feel more vulnerable than my other work. ‘Athena Reminiscing' was born to commemorate time exploring Greece using the medium of Polaroids for its inherent nostalgia to capture the feeling of memories.

Each image was shot on medium-format film, the first exposure is of a physical Polaroid taken atop the Acropolis layered with a second exposure self-portrait reminiscent of Classical Antiquity. 'Athena Reminiscing' speaks to the moment when past and present collide in the reliving of our memories.

Credits: Lydia Lutz

And lastly, since your days seem to pretty much revolve around photography right now, are there other hobbies you pursue outside of the craft whenever you feel like you need to take a break?

If I’m not doing archival work, I can usually be found with a book in hand and music round the clock in the background. During my first couple months in the UK, I rediscovered fantasy novels as an adult that brought back the all-consuming, stay up all night feeling that I haven't experienced since I was a teen! In particular, I have been loving the works by Sarah J. Maas and Rebecca Yarros.

Credits: Lydia Lutz

There are quite a few event groups in the UK that host fantasy-themed balls inspired by all our favorite worlds that I have been attending with my best friend who is also from America! She is an incredible seamstress who has been making our dresses for these events, and I contribute embroidery and beading to my looks. For the last dress, I beaded a gothic arch/stained glass inspired design onto the bodice!

I go to a lot of other non-photo exhibitions and events, like Wes Anderson’s exhibitions at 180 Studios in London, motorcycle events, tattoo conventions, classic car auctions etc. I also love walking a few minutes into the center of town with my friends to wander around the local farmers markets and hunter-gather coffee and treats to enjoy together in the garden.

We'd like to thank Lydia for this interview and wish her the best in her endeavors! To view more of her work, follow her on Instagram.

written by sylvann on 2023-08-21 #culture #people #conservation #film-archiving #lydia-lutz

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