Giving a voice to the voiceless: The work of Shane Balkowitsch

Giving a voice to the voiceless: The work of Shane Balkowitsch

Sprinting back and forth throughout the day, Shane Balkowitsch takes a needed rest after working to capture the DAPL protest in silver. Dustin White photo

Sprinting back and forth throughout the day, Shane Balkowitsch takes a needed rest after working to capture the DAPL protest in silver. Dustin White photo

Dustin White
Editor

Sitting behind dual monitors, in his office in an industrial portion of Bismarck, Shane Balkowitsch spends much of his day running an online retail store. Immersed in a life of technology, he has found a way to escape to a simpler time, while also using his passion to give a voice to those who have been stripped of theirs.

Born and raised in Bismarck, Balkowitsch would eventually leave his hometown. Looking to start a career in the medical field, he worked his way to becoming a registered nurse, but fate would have another calling in line.

Returning home, Balkowitsch was drawn into the online retail business, after he began helping his mother, Sharon Balkowitsch, sell antiques and collectibles out of her basement. Introduced to eBay, the business would launch from pushing just around $3,000 in revenue during 1998, to becoming a multimillion dollar venture.

Then four years ago, in 2012, Balkowitsch would come upon a photo online that caught his attention. Upon further investigation, he discovered that the photo was created through the wet plate process. He was hooked.

Researching the process, Balkowitsch stumbled upon a book by John Coffer, which would lead him down the rabbit hole. Not being a photographer himself, Balkowitsch entered into a new world, one in which was generally reserved for advanced photographers.

Immersing himself in the wet plate, or collodion process, Balkowitsch would acquire the objects that he needed in order to begin his new journey. Just 60 days after first seeing the fascinating image he had stumbled upon on the the internet, Balkowitsch, in October of 2012, would capture his first image in silver. The sitter; his brother Chad Balkowitsch.

That first plate would eventually turn into nearly 2,000, and through the process, Balkowitsch had found his voice. Knowing that many others are not so lucky, he has in turn used his passion for the collodion process to also give a voice to others.

Corey Carson and Shane Balkowitsch capturing a scene in silver as they work to help bring light to the DAPL protest. Dustin White photo.

Corey Carson and Shane Balkowitsch capturing a scene in silver as they work to help bring light to the DAPL protest. Dustin White photo.

Can’t Drink Oil
Through the summer of 2016, Balkowitsch would be busy with a new project titled “Northern Plains Native Americans: A Modern Wet Plate Perspective.”

Following in the footsteps of 19th century wet plate photographers who had undertaken similar series, Balkowitsch would have a chance to not only meet, but befriend many from the Standing Rock Reservation. Taking friendship very seriously, when Balkowitsch heard of the protest against the Dakota Access Pipe Line, he knew that he couldn’t sit behind his desk, but had to stand with his friends in the heat.

With the protestors main concern being their water supply, the same Missouri River which the DAPL is proposed to go under, Balkowitsch knew he had to capture what was taking place, and help bring attention to the situation.

On Aug. 15, Balkowitsch, along with Corey Carson who would capture behind the scene photos, made the trek to Cannon Ball, N.D. There, he would put on the hat of a photojournalist, to document a fight for water, a fight for life.

However, documenting the protest for future generations to look back on was only one of his goals for the day. With the potential to bring light of the protest to a different, and possibly larger audience, Balkowitsch has strived to get word out about the struggle that is currently ongoing as more than 90 nations have joined to stop the DAPL.

Setting up for a unique photo shoot in Bismarck, Shane Balkowitsch's camera stands back, ready to capture light. Dustin White photo.

Setting up for a unique photo shoot in Bismarck, Shane Balkowitsch’s camera stands back, ready to capture light. Dustin White photo.

Persecution of Complete Strangers
A few days before he had the chance to join friends at the DAPL protest south of Mandan, another tragedy occurred that struck Balkowitsch: the murder of Hande Kader.

On Aug. 12, Kader, a politically active Turkish transgendered woman, was found dead. Her body was found raped, mutilated and burnt along the roadside in the Zekeriyakoy up-market.

Moved by the brutality of the murder, Balkowitsch made the decision to dedicate a performance art event, that had been in the works for nearly a year, to Kader’s memory. The event, titled “The Persecution of Complete Strangers,” had been inspired by photos created by William Mortensen.

Wanting to bring attention to crimes committed against perceived enemies, often fueled by xenophobia, Balkowitsch, along with a host of collaborators, came together on Aug. 27 to help honor Kader’s memory.

Murderer's Gulch wet plate by Shane Balkowitsch

Murderer’s Gulch wet plate by Shane Balkowitsch

A Voice to the Voiceless
Passion. For those who know Balkowitsch, it is clear that he is fueled by a great passion, which often bubbles over. It is that passion that led him to help bring light to the serious issues revolving around the DAPL protest, as well as the murder of Hader.

It is also that passion, and intensity, that has led him to other fights. When one of his school hood teachers, Joel Puffe, resigned after having been put into a difficult situation, Balkowitsch helped lead a movement to show their support of Puffe.

The outpouring support and attention became so overwhelming that the Bismarck Public School superintendent’s office sent out a media release in response. However, the movement was larger than just Puffe, and helped shine light on all the teachers who are put into difficult situations in their classrooms.

That same passion has also moved Balkowitsch to work to help Levi Gartner, the son of Joe and Tiffany Garner, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 Neuroblastoma. Helping to organize a local fundraising event for Levi earlier in the year, Balkowitsch found another way to also raise funds for the Gartner family.

In June, Balkowitsch and a host of collaborators came together in order to pull off one of the largest photoshoots in Bismarck. The task was to recreate a portion of the city’s darker history.

Titled “Murderer’s Gulch,” the shoot attempted to bring life to a Bismarck street that was known, in the late 1800s, as the wickedest street in the wickedest town. With the photoshoot a success, Balkowitsch decided to make more of it.

Creating special prints from a wet plate photograph he took during the day, he made the decision to raise money for Levi through sales of that print. With the help of Image Printing, the photos have been donated to be used as a fundraiser, where 100% of the proceeds were able to benefit the Gartner family.