In 2013, photographer Matt Alberts found himself feeling frustrated with his lack of inspiration in the digital photography process. He felt a need to actually create his photographs, and not with just a simple shutter click, but with his hands. Alberts, seeking guidance, attended a wet collodion process class taught by Quinn Jacobson and instantly fell in love with this form of photography invented 170 years prior. Jacobson and Alberts became friends, with Jacobson also taking on a mentor role to the Denver-based Alberts.
As Alberts continued to learn the time-consuming technique, he invited his friend Chet Childress to Jacobson’s studio for a portrait. Alberts knew that Childress, being an artist and skateboarder with a unique look, would make an interesting subject for his wet plate portrait, but little did he know how this portrait would change the course of his passions and inspiration.
According to Alberts, “With its sensitivity to UV light and long exposure times, wet collodion is believed to have the ability to see beneath the skin, revealing one’s soul and character.” This belief, coupled with Childress’ triptych portrait, inspired Alberts to create the LIFERS Project, which aimed to capture wet plate portraits of those who push the limits in the pursuit of their passions.
When car manufacturer Cadillac heard about the project, they were eager to get involved. They teamed up with Alberts and the LIFERS Project to provide assistance on the road trip and a series of films that Alberts wanted to produce. The project would be based on three seasons (Snow, Sun, Water) with each covering a different bold sport.
Alberts, Childress, and two friends, Coburn Huff and Joe Fernandez, set out on a year-long road trip to capture LIFERS throughout the United States. In search of passionate people, the team traversed 3,000 miles and 38 cities through 18 states, stopping to meet and document the lives of more than 100 inspiring individuals.
“Water” took the team to the east coast, where they documented the historic surf culture. In the film, Greg Mesanko, owner of Grog’s Surf Palace, talks about the differences between the surf culture of the east coast compared to the more well known west coast.
For the most part, we surf in bitter, bitter cold. All year round. I don’t care how cold it gets. 20 below, and we are out there. New Jersey is totally underrated as far as the waves go. They are really, really good. Not quite as big as Hawaii. Maybe not as perfect as California. But ours are hollow…and ass kicking.
The “Water” portion of the Seasons Collection is a fascinating look into the East Coast’s proud surf culture and the passionate people behind it. The timeless look of the wet plate portraits compliments the characters and the history rich U.S. eastern seaboard that they surf day in and day out. Even if it’s not as big as Hawaii, or as warm and perfect as California, the LIFERS who surf these waves are proud to call the Atlantic Ocean their home.
Editor’s Note – Matt Alberts was kind enough to provide Resource Travel with the original wet plate scans of his portraits from the “Water” portion of his trip. See below. Thank you Matt.
See more films from the team’s road trip to document LIFERS on Cadillac’s YouTube channel. Matt Alberts has printed a book of his unique project of documenting the passionate lives and adventures of the action sports subjects he met on his journey with wet plate photography. To purchase, visit TheLIFERSProject.com