StoriesMatthew Klos ’19

Exploring the Physical Through Alternative Process Photography

Student Matthew Klos uses alternative process photography to explore physical forms and confront struggles in life.

“My art has a lot to do with my identity," explains photographer and MFA in Photography and Integrated Media student Matthew Klos. "When I was younger, it had to do with who I thought I was as a person and my love for art history. More recently it talks about paralysis and pain or the physical nature of our bodies."

Matthew’s sudden paralysis in 2016 changed his body but didn’t derail his passion for making art. Even when faced with the challenge of moving around in a cramped darkroom or studio while using a wheelchair, Matthew is committed to perfecting his craft. Explaining it simply, Matthew says, “I’ve always felt the need to create.”

Matthew’s black and white self-portraits showcase his body in classical poses. Often draped in elaborate cloth hangings or surrounded by ornate memorabilia, Matthew transports himself into a scene. The process is difficult. The movement and dexterity required to set himself up in a scene is physically challenging. In this way, the method for taking the photograph reflects the subject of the image. And displaying his body as a classical figure to his viewers, who only later discover his paralysis, adds thought to the work.

“The art is struggle, the art is talking about struggle, and making the art is a struggle.”
Matthew Klos

Bringing Physicality Back to Photography

For Matthew, the process of making a photograph is almost as important as the finished product. He says that, “for better or worse, I feel as though my hand has to touch the photograph.” He admires what artists can do with digital photography, but knows that he conceptualizes art differently. Matthew’s need to interact physically with his photographs through every point in their creation is what attracted him to pursuing a photography degree in Boston using "alternative process."

Most people born in the last 100 years aren’t familiar with alternative process photography (sometimes called historical process photography). That’s because it utilizes techniques that saw their heyday in the 1850s. These old methods are going through a renaissance, with Matthew and others reclaiming the importance of the artist's hand in producing an image. As digital technology becomes ubiquitous, alternative process photographers see value in holding on to analog methods.

That means Matthew makes photographs using wet-collodion process and tintypes. Both methods mix flammable materials or use enamels and emulsions in precise measurements. Matthew likes that he gets to use his hands and a bit of chemistry when he’s taking and developing his photos. His view is that content, process, and subject matter all come together with alternative process: "I'm making something physical, while acting physically, and talking about physicality."

“Many people think it’s this extremely slow, difficult, and arduous process, but I find it really freeing," he says. Matthew has always embraced the struggle in making art, convinced that the challenge is precisely what makes it worthwhile.

"When I was in the hospital, my friends were like, 'we have to get you a digital camera,'" he recalls. But Matthew's passion for analog and artistic photography took him in a different direction. "I ended up getting a larger-view camera."

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