My love of history made me familiar with tintypes. I had seen the tintype images of Walt Whitman, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and men and women photographed during the Civil War. Something about old portraits had the power to move me, something in the eyes of the person was haunting and ghost like. I often wondered what it was about these images that made them so unlike what I was used to seeing digitally or on film.
It wasn't until my best friend Eileen and I stumbled upon an article written in 1975 describing how the lost art of tintype was experiencing a small revival. It described what made the process unique, and explained that anyone could learn to properly and safely mix the chemistry and make their own modern images using this early photographic method. We were up for the challenge, and after a little more research we found a place in New York City where we went to learn the basics at a two day workshop. Rowan Rene (Brooklyn Tintype) was our excellent teacher who we highly recommend.
I fell in love with the process, and when I saw the image develop and fix before my eyes I was hooked. Everything, from amount of time it took to take one photograph, to varnishing it, and finally holding the heavy plate in my hands was so unlike everything I was used to in this digital age. Something about starting at the beginning with this ancient process made sense for me.
Send me an email to book a session and see how it's done. The wetplate process is unique in that there are no negatives. The photographer mixes a liquid "film" called collodion and pours it directly onto the metal plate which will then sensitize in silver nitrate making it light sensitive. This plate is then loaded into the back of a large format view camera and exposed for anywhere between one and 15 seconds depending on a few variables. Finally the plate is developed on site. The whole process from start to finish must be done while the chemistry is wet, which is a window of about 15 minutes. There is no taking a photograph and developing it later, so anywhere my camera goes my portable darkroom and chemistry must go too. Since it is a silver image, the plate must be varnished to ensure that it does not tarnish. A properly made tintype can last 150+ years.
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