Bernard Testemale is best known as a professional surf photographer, based in southern France, having grown up in Soustons and surfing from an early age. He began his photo career in the dark(room) ages, shooting with film, and shifted to digital photography, as everyone did, for a stretch of 10 years, using medium and large-format cameras.  He also did interesting work with large-format Polaroid film, sadly only available as expired stock nowadays, and in 2013 he stepped through the looking glass into the world of Wet Plate.   He studied with a chemistry specialist, Jacques Cousin, who instructed him on some of the dark arts of the wet plate/collodion process, and also dug into books from the 1880s, when the process was at its peak of perfection, by Desire Van Monckhoven, A. Liébert, etc.

The supercharged 1930 BMW land speed racer ridden by Ernst Henne, that magically appeared at the 2014 Wheels+Waves ‘ArtRide’ exhibition, courtesy the BMW Museum in Munich [Bernard Testemale]
“There’s a ton of good information in the old books”, he explains, and is lucky enough to read these texts in his native language!  Photography was invented in France, or at least the first successful, permanent photo-images, first from the work of the wonderfully named Nicephore Niépce, who laid the foundations for photography by exposing polished silver plates fogged with iodine and bromine, and developed with mercury vapor. This dangerous process is called Daguerreotype, after Niépce’s student/business partner, Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, perfected the process and popularized it worldwide.

Chopper rider Bruno Allart [Bernard Testemale]
“It took me a almost a year – full time – to learn from my mistakes, and practice the process practice step by step. I was dedicated to the process, and I haven’t stopped since …”  His work in the wet plate/collodion medium is outstanding, and Bernard can be seen around the world these days, traveling to surf hotspots, which tend to be motorcycle hotspots too!  So today he indulges both passions, for boards and wheels, with his mighty Deardorff 8×10″ camera, at events like Wheels+Waves.

Lustrous, with the sought-after ‘Bokeh’ created by spherical abberations in an old lens, blurring any out-of-focus areas, and making even chopper fishtails look like Art Nouveau accents [Bernard Testemale]
Bernard is having an exhibition in Paris of his wet plate/collodion photography, ‘Art of Ride’ at Galerie Hegoa, 16, rue de Beaune, in the 7th Arrondissement.   The exhibition is open from Jan 26th – March 18 2018.  Here’s the gallery’s press release on the exhibition:

The word ‘Ride’ or ‘Rider’ sums up the spirit of freedom that drives his work. Entirely created in collodion – a complex photographic process dating to the mid-19th century – and embedded onto metal plates (tintypes or ferrotypes) or glass (ambrotypes), these infinitely nuanced black and white images trigger an immediate flashback and unleash an emotional electricity as unique as it is unexpected. To create timeless pieces of great intensity with only an engine or a face is a challenge and a passion, existing somewhere at the crossroads of painting, sculpture and photography. Working with collodion requires a mountain of equipment, a keen understanding of chemistry and the mastery of countless technical factors that can destroy an image. Each photograph requires as much time and patience on the part of the photographer as the subject. Of these hours of laborious work, the photographer has no guarantee of success, but the little imperfections and the unpredictability of the final print are the charm of these unique and timeless artworks. “This is a sort of return to the past,” explains Testemale, “Collodion takes us back to the origins of photography.”

‘Sultans of Sprint’ [Bernard Testemale]
Paul Simonon of the Clash [Bernard Testemale]
A Gnome-Rhone Model X Art Deco flat twin [Bernard Testemale]
Paul d’Orléans aboard the supercharged BMW [Bernard Testemale]
‘Pouring a plate’ – the collodion (charged with iodine and salts) is poured on black glass to create an ambrotype, Bernard’s preferred medium. Once the collodion becomes tacky (10 seconds or so), the plate is dunked into a silver nitrate bath for 90 seconds, at which point it is light-sensitive film, as silver particles embed the tacky collodion surface. The plate is pulled out in a darkroom, put into a plate holder (familiar to any large-format photographer), and exposed in a camera. The charged collodion has an ASA of about 1, so exposures are long, and lenses ‘hot’! [Arto Saari]
Bernard Testemale with his trusty 8×10: Deardorff camera [Arto Saari]
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