Sharon Holck’s Experimental Alcohol Photography Process

by Paul Weiner

Sharon Holck is a photographer from Hawaii who is currently working in New York City in pursuit of a BFA at Pratt Institute. Her current body of work deals with photographing bars using long exposure and various alcoholic beverages for processing film. More images of Holck’s work are available on her website.


Paul Weiner:
In your recent Pick Your Poison series, you are using various alcohols to process your film. What has been the most interesting formula so far?

Sharon Holck:
So far my favorite formula has been where I used Arrogant Bastard Ale and Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale that was heated up to 103 degrees. Before that, I had been using beers like Stella Artois and Yuengling, which are milder beers that created only slight color changes in the negatives. When I chose the Arrogant Bastard Ale and Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, which are 7.2% alcohol and decided to heat it up to the same temperature as the developer, it created smokey effects with a blue or green hue.


Paul Weiner:
Are you aiming to send a particular message with your examination of bar culture?

Sharon Holck:
This project is still very much in the works so I haven’t quite figured out the message I want to send. Originally, I set out to create an experience through photography that one may have while he or she attends the bar by having the series start off with very static, straight images just like our vision is when we begin the night and then gradually go into the more abstract images to symbolize drunkenness.

I feel a connection between photography works as a medium and how alcohol affects our judgment. Photography is made to where we believe things are true, but, in fact, when you study it, you can find so many other stories behind an image. An image that may be thought to be true can actually be a lie. Alcohol, in the same sense, clouds our judgment and can make things be looked at in different ways as well as make people make choices they may regret later on. They can also remember things differently or not remember things at all.


Paul Weiner:
Are your photos ever staged or are these photos of events as they naturally occurred?

Sharon Holck:
It’s a balance of both. There are some portraits in the series where I have asked people to sit still for a minute for a photograph. Then there are some who approach me and ask for a portrait, and I let them choose whether or not to stay still or move. I will also occasionally set up still lifes with wine glasses or beer bottles on a table. I’ve also once asked for a bunch of people to dance for me.

The more abstract ones though aren’t really planned. I look for a space that has interesting light or objects in the image, and then I will keep the camera straight for maybe half the exposure. Then I move the camera around to get light trails and help to abstract the image.


Paul Weiner:
When you go to these bars, are you going only as an observer or as a participant who is interested in documenting your own experience?

Sharon Holck:
I think I’m more of an observer. I like people watching and make things out of what I got in the moment. For myself I even don’t like getting drunk and it’s only happened once. So a lot of what I’m making is taken from that one experience or from what I hear from friends.


Paul Weiner:
This seems to be a process that is unique to film photography. What are some of the challenges of working with film in the 21st century?

Sharon Holck:
It’s definitely a lot more work. There aren’t tons of places that sell the film, and sometimes they don’t have it in stock. Then bringing this large camera into a bar setting where it’s dark is really hard to focus so there are times I’m not sure what I’m going to get. But I think that’s part of what makes film so intriguing. Something you may think you see will come out different, either better or worse but still different then what you thought.

Another hard thing is processing. At first, I had a place to send my negatives to, but I couldn’t get the effects I wanted in the post processing, so I had to learn how to process color myself and buy the chemicals and equipment.

I think really the only other issue I find is the cost of film being so expensive. 35mm is easy cause you get so many exposures for four dollars, but shooting large format where it’s ten pictures for $43 is a bit of a struggle when you’re maybe only getting 4 images out of each shoot. But I love the detail that large format gives, and it really makes me stop and think when I shoot. I love the medium. I think I would be too wild working in a smaller format.


Paul Weiner:
Which photographers do you find the most inspirational?

Sharon Holck:
Keith Carter is very influential in my life. His story and photography helped get me out of a rut back when I first started college. I still share his work with others whenever I can.

I also love Ian Ruhter for his use of wet plate photography and using a van as his camera.

I also like other photographers like William Eggleston, Thomas Roma, John Divola, and Todd Hido to name a few.


Paul Weiner:
Many of your most dynamic photos incorporate a sense of repetition probably because of your use of long exposure. Why did you choose to use a long exposure process in this series?

Sharon Holck:
It was both planned and limited to not being able to use flash. In general, I don’t really like using flash. I’d rather use the natural ambiance of an interior to light itself, so I had already planned the exposures to be long. Then, when I went to the bars, they would tell me they would rather me not use flash.




Paul Weiner:
Have you ran into any interesting characters during your bar photography trips?

Sharon Holck:
Yes! I have good relationships with two bars in particular right now. Both are very friendly, supportive, and interested in the project. Many people approach me asking questions and are very intrigued to see me working with a large camera instead of digital or some other small, handheld camera. I’ve met many artists, musicians, bartenders, and, recently, someone who works at an art museum. To hear her opinion was very interesting, and it gave me a lot of things to think about for the future.

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