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. I often wondered what it was about these images that made them so unlike what I was used to seeing digitally or on film. 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. I took a workshop with Rowan Rene (Brooklyn Tintype) an excellent teacher who I highly recommend. I have been practicing ever since, and am currently the Artist in Residence at The Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee until April 2018.
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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