Woodland Fairies

Wetcollodion on 5x7" glass series

Woodland Fairies

Technique: wetcollodion on glass, analogue photography
Exhibition space: Gallery Pelikan House, 2022

The question of whether photographs differ when created by a woman's eye versus a man's is very easy to answer at Klavdija Žitnik's exhibition. Yes, definitely! In this exhibition, the author presents a series of photographs that deeply delve into the sphere of self-awareness and is the most beautiful display of women's sensibility and creativity.

In the series "Woodland Villas" we can see women who are part of nature, allies of their beauty. They seek shelter in it and merge with it. In these photographs, the forest is presented to us as a place of holiness. With this series, the author encourages reflection, which we need more today than ever before. Our ancestors left us rich, healthy, vast forests, and today’s greedy society threatens them with unbridled logging and a polluted atmosphere.

The photographic technique of wet collodions on glass, which the author uses, is insensitive to most visible light, so the portraits are drawn in a spectrum of ultraviolet and blue light, not yellow-orange. The lens also has a completely different drawing, as the 360 ​​mm focal length lens on the 13x18 cm (5x7”) format is actually equivalent to the 80 mm focal length on the classic“ leica ”format (2.4 x 3.6 cm). Because of the described, the portraits turn out differently than we are used to seeing. There is, of course, no coincidence here, the author's conscious decision to choose a tool and technique to add a new, artistic dimension to her vision of the portrait.

The author took photographs of this exhibition in an analogous way; on glass photographic plates - ambrotypes.

The process of wet collodions on glass is a special challenge, as the author had to prepare and develop glass plates in the field. The process of wet collodions on glass was invented in 1851 and prevailed until 1890. The advantage of this is that it has an extremely sharp and tonally rich drawing and even surpasses digital photography in these areas. The disadvantage of this process, however, is that it requires at least a hundred times more light than the cheapest film. The sensitivity of the wet board is somewhere between ISO 0.3 to ISO 5, depending on the chemistry and especially the color spectrum of the light that illuminates the motif.

The big challenge of photographing on a wet plate is that the glass plate needs to be prepared just before the process, illuminated immediately and developed immediately afterwards. Collodion glass plate is sensitive only when it is still wet. It is both a curse and a blessing for the photographer. The curse, especially when photographing in the field, is that Klavdija Žitnik had to carry all the darkness, all the chemistry and all the water to the location of the shooting, to the forest. The blessing, however, comes from this same curse, because a glass plate needs to be developed on the spot, and - magic happens when a photograph is made of ordinary glass. The photographer and the person portrayed see the photography in front of them at the same time, they witness the magic of chemistry and physics.

Photographing the process of wet collodions on glass in the field is always a big challenge. But challenges also give birth to opportunities. In the photo titled “She”, there was a coincidence of solarization by chance, because some developers remained on the board and this board was exposed to daylight before it went into the fixer. This coincidence, which, like any coincidence, is turnkey, has contributed to an additional visual effect, where fog spreads from the beautiful forest villa, from the black interior. Sorry, this is just an interpretation of the author of this text, but the point is that in analog photography these coincidences happen, this magic that is very organic and very authentic.

The exhibition is also a great proof of how craftsmanship and knowledge of photographic procedures can be used very creatively.

The dividing line between success and failure is the focus, which more often than not stretches from one hour to one day, from one day to one weekend and the weekend project becomes year-round. For some, solitary work in the dark is a time of focus that is most reminiscent of meditation, and anyone who has experienced this knows what I am talking about. I have no doubt that the author Klavdija Žitnik knows what I am talking about.

No doubt coincidence plays an important role in these processes, many photographs need to be taken and most of them fail, but those who make their way to the exhibition tell their own story, a story of awareness and connection. A story of female energy.

Borut Peterlin


In the wet collodion photographs of Klavdija Žitnik, we see the artist's depiction of a woman's connection with nature, synchronization with natural cycles and the purification of processes that we internalize in a lifestyle that requires us to speed, constant progress and often dissociate from our own body and soul. The photographs call for an exit from the vicious circle of materialism and all the demands it places on us, and indicate a turn to nature and intuition. Their inspiration comes from shamanism and the philosophy of contact between man, nature and the spirituality associated with it.
With the photographs, we get an association with the writing of Clarissa Pinkola Estes, an American psychoanalyst and feminist, a study of myths and legends involving women, interpreted with the Jungian method. Her goal is to explain the empowerment of a woman that comes from contact with her instinctive nature. In the fairy tale of Vasilisa, which is a Russian, Polish, Romanian and Yugoslav fairy tale, we are faced with the interpretation of the symbol of the forest, in connection with femininity. Vasilisa is the story of a girl who leaves her evil stepmother and sister and is sent to the forest to get embers from Yaga Baba to light her home. Pinkola Estes interprets the forest as a symbol of the deep initiation that a girl faces when her previous life dies and she must face the shadow side of her own psyche and her wild and true nature while successfully bringing fire (an empowered version of her personality) out of the forest, which went through individuation. Before going to the forest, Vasilisa also receives a small doll as a gift from her mother. Pinkola Estes interprets it as a symbolic homunculus, a small life, a symbol of what is hidden in man, a part of the original self. It acts as a symbol of the inner spirit of a woman, as an intuition that we must take with us on a journey of self-discovery.

In the motifs seen in the Woodland Villas series, which include women of various ages, the homunculus can also be interpreted as a woman who always carries a child's soul within her and remains loyal to her. The story, in connection with the works of Klavdija Žitnik, establishes a clear connection between the archetype of a sensitive, sophisticated woman and the forest, which carries meaning both from the point of view of merging with nature, and also as a distinct indicator of the subconscious. The photographs encourage us to delve into our own psyche, listen to our own body and to have the courage to renounce the norms of modern society, which we perceive as destructive.
The wet collodion technique allows for a nuanced blending of tones and the highlighting of structures, which lends itself to the conceptual design of photographs, as it emphasizes raw and primary motifs, and adds a mythical atmosphere to the darkness that has been present in our consciousness since time immemorial. At the same time, the technique, which does not allow for later interventions and whose carrier is glass, emphasizes the positive aspects of maladjustment and the fragility of human existence in connection with the subject matter. Thoughtfully created, there is a variation between the display of trees, vegetation and penetrating portraits, which urge us to merge and become one with the original, while at the same time telling an uncensored story about the power of a woman who returns to a deeper contact with her own desires and needs. The props, reminiscent of shamanic rituals, remind us of the magic that comes from a silent rebellion against the superficial, for the sake of life, which will perfect a person and protect his roots.
Art historian and curator,
Sara Nuša Golob Grabner

Clarisa PINKOLA ESTES, Women who run with wolves, Ljubljana, 2002

  • Skills

    Ambrotype, collodion, wetplate