Monthly Archives: April 2014

Tintypes: What the heck are they and why do I keep talking about them?!

The wet plate collodion process was developed by Frederic Scott Archer and introduced in the 1850s.  It became a very popular photographic process by the end of the decade and virtually replaced the first photographic process, Daguerrotypes.  It remained popular until the 1880’s, when it was replaced by the gelatin dry plate process, which was a more convenient process, due to its increased sensitivity (leading to shorter exposure times) and the fact that it could be prepared in advance and used at a later time.

Frederick_Scott_Archer

Frederick Scott Archer – by Robert Cade c. 1855

The wet plate collodion process is a fairly simple one, requiring the photographer to dissolve a soluble iodide into a collodion solution and coating a plate with it.  The plate was then immersed in a silver nitrate solution in the darkroom, put into a special plate holder, and while stil wet, put in a camera and exposed.  The solution is only sensitive while it is wet, and so it was imperative to expose the plate during that time.  It is developed by pouring a solution of iron sulfate, acetic acid and alcohol.  It is finally fixed with a solution of sodium thiosulfate or potassium cyanid.  Again, the plate must be developed and fixed while still wet, because as it dries the collodion layer becomes waterproof and does not allow the solutions to penetrate and react with the silver nitrate layer.  The final part of the process involves applying a varnish, to protect the surface of the image from scratches, although often they were immediately put into protective cases and left unvarnished. This process was valued because it shows a high level of detail and has amazing clarity when exposed properly.  It is also interesting because the silver halides in the silver nitrate solution are sensitive to actinic light, which means that it is more sensitive to blue and uv light, so colors and light-waves in that spectrum show up extremely light and colors in the orange and red end of the spectrum show up significantly darker.

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Preparing and processing a collodion wet-plate. From Gaston Tissandier, A History and Handbook of Photography edited by John Thomson, 1878.

A Tintype, which has also been known by the name of melainotype and ferrotype, was a process patented in 1856 by Hamilton Smith,  using the collodion process on a metal plate.  Originally a thin sheet of iron was coated with a dark lacquer, also known as japanning, which is similar to enamel paint and was used in China and Japan as a decorative coating for pottery and made its way to Europe in the 17th century. With a tintype a direct positive is made on the sheet, which is slightly different from using glass, in that you can make either a positive or negative image with a glass sheet.   Tintypes were also less fragile and cheaper to use, which was a great benefit to photographers who, as the process became more popular, would travel around the country, working at carnivals or fairs, or would travel on their own, going town to town with a cart of their materials, a portable darkroom and props. The process also became popular because, when compared to the daguerreotype, it is a much quicker process, taking only a few minutes from start to finish, and is significantly less fragile.  They were easy to carry around on a person, and were popular during the Civil War for this reason, as they would survive the difficult conditions soldiers were in and would not break or add much weight to their belongings. 34_4_amelia_tintype   Tintypes experienced a level of popularity through the 1870s and 80s, as it was finally supplanted by paper-based photographic printing processes, though some carnivals and fairs continued to see its use at photo booths and it continued to be used on smaller levels throughout the 20th century. 34_2_amelia_doll_tintype The contemporary resurgence of the wet plate process is a fascinating development in the photography world, with many new users responding to the ubiquitous nature of digital photography in our lives and the lack of value in an item that literally anyone can produce at any time with a number of devices.  We are lucky that a group of photographers and chemists studied the process in the late 20th Century and after much experimentation and researching old photography manuals, were able to put the pieces together to recreate a number of these processes, which allows those of us finding ourselves interested in the 21st Century to have clear sources of information as well as a number of workshops and groups available to participate in to learn the process.

 

 

There are many reasons that photographers explore wet plate, and is currently used for fine art images (including still life, conceptual portraits, and landscapes), traditional portraiture, portraits during Civil War Re-enactments most commonly.  Tintypes can be produced on tiny plates as small as a 35mm frame and as large as the wall of a box truck and every size in between.  Cameras are found in antique shops, but are also being made new by a few companies world wide, or sold as kits you can make yourself.  You can also modify cameras that you already own and shoot wet plate using toy-cameras like Holgas and Dianes, Polaroid cameras, Pinhole cameras and any 35mm you can find… it is a pretty amazing medium to be able to explore and there are almost endless possibilities for its use. I am obsessed with the tintype process because it reminds me of my first photographic experiences as a child, when making pictures was like magic.  I played with photo-sensitive papers and created silhouettes of insects, flowers and leaves and thought it was possibly a miracle.  Later, I was able to take my tiny little camera and capture images of my family, friends and pets, send the cartridge away and get back a few days later a permanent record of those events, which was only slightly less magical.

 

When I first started collecting tintypes, it was because they were so different from other vintage photographs- there was something haunting about the images and something timeless.  When I finally was able to attend a workshop with Mark Osterman at the George Eastman House, I saw the magic of the process and it reminded me of my childhood, at which point I was hooked.  As my first plate was developed and the image started to appear, and then when I fixed it and the cyanide swirled away and exposed the image underneath, I knew this was going to be a process that I would love and would add another dimension to my photography.

 Here are some iPhone shots I took during the Tintype workshop we attended last fall at George Eastman House with Mark Osterman:

The whole still life set up plus camera

The whole still life set up plus camera

The back of the camera: everything is upside-down!

The back of the camera: everything is upside-down!

Jae is pouring his plate

Jae is pouring his plate

Draining the plate prior to putting it in the Silver tank

Draining the plate prior to putting it in the Silver tank

Jae putting in the plate holder with the sensitized plate.

Jae putting in the plate holder with the sensitized plate.

Jae rinsing the plate after fixing it.

Jae rinsing the plate after fixing it.

Jae drying the plate prior to applying the sandarac varnish.

Jae drying the plate prior to applying the sandarac varnish.

Tintypes are all about chemical mixtures and finding the right combination of the basic components to create the right solution for your environment and your needs… it is about experimentation with both chemicals but also with light and exposure.  It isn’t like digital photography, you can’t change it later in post-processing— you make one image, that can never be replicated and cannot be changed once you are done… it is a finite process with a number of variable that will effect your image.  And for me, it is magic… it reminds me that while sometimes it isn’t a perfect plate, not everything has to be perfect to have value.  I love that I mess it up and don’t know what changed, what I did wrong this time that I didn’t do the last 10 plates I made…. is it more humid, colder, dryer?   All these things change how the chemistry will work and have to be taken into account… and then exposure can be an issue… is there more daylight or less? What color is the subject wearing?   It takes skill and practice and still it sometimes even then, it doesn’t work out the way you think it will.

The portrait of Jae created during the workshop:

TWallDuggan_JaeDuggan_Tintype-4   I am just starting on this journey and I can’t wait to share this experience with as many people as I can.  I am creating tintype portraits at the studio in Watertown so anyone can have access to this unique process and can have a one-of-a-kind image made of themselves that they can treasure and pass on to their descendants.  It is important to remember our roots and to understand how things that we take for granted now, came to be.

One of my Skull Still Life images:

TWallDuggan_Skull_Tintype-2One of the Portraits I’ve created this Spring:

Erin_Tintype-2_web

Posted in Fine Art, Headshots, Photography, Portrait, Wet Plate Collodion Tagged , , , , , , , , , |

A New Project and a Trip to Oregon!

So, it just occurred to me that we are already in the fourth month of 2014 and unfortunately I have been seriously neglecting my blog posting for the year, as this is my first post!   I will be better about posting going forward and can’t wait to share the work I’ve been doing as well as the amazing projects I’ve got lined up for the next couple of months!

I hope the year has been good to you thus far and that you are excited about the Spring, I know I have been seriously jonesing for this warm weather to arrive since my trip to Oregon at the end of February and I’m excited that the temperature is finally where it was while we were on the west coast!  We went out to Portland to visit some friends who moved there a few years ago who we’ve been promising to visit literally since they moved.  Jae did a bit of a guest spot at our friends Joe and Dominic’s tattoo studio, Dead Gods Tattoo and I planned a few photo shoots while we were out there so I could get a chance to work with some new faces on the west coast.

Now, I should go back a bit in time and explain how and why I organized the shoots that I did while I was in Portland…

In January, I decided that I really need to give myself a personal project for the year to allow myself to explore some creative concepts in the midst of the fashion, beauty and portraiture that I usually focus on, and I really wanted to work on getting a cohesive body of fine art work together.  I have a tendency to wander in my interests photographically, which allows me to explore a lot of outlets and ideas, but makes for a strange assortment of work in my portfolio.  I spent a few weeks pondering what makes me happy when creating fine art images and what concepts I fall back on again and again that I have a passion for creating.  I realized that my favorite images have a few things in common, which I should concentrate on: they have a painterly feel, they are inspired by classical paintings in lighting and posing- especially work created during the Italian Renaissance and the Dutch Golden Age, and they have a fantastical or supernatural subject matter.  Using these three ideas to focus my project, I finally decided on: The Female Archetype Project.  This project will explore female archetypes using images depicting mythological female characters throughout the world.  I am really excited to be able to revisit some of my studies from college comparing religions and various mythologies, comparing ideas and finding the concepts which seem to be universal.  My hope is to be able to put a book together with all the images as well as some explanations of the archetypes, sharing the research I’ll be doing into these concepts!

 

Now, back to Oregon!  

So, in preparation for my trip, I put out a casting call on Model Mayhem in hopes of finding a model or two I would be able to work with while I was out there.  Because I would be planning from across the country and had no contacts in the modeling world in Oregon, I figured it would be my best bet to plan to work on the Female Archetype Project while I was there, vs attempting to find a full team of hair/makeup/wardrobe for a fashion-based concept. After going back and forth with a few different models, I settled on three who were interested in creating some mythological figures, had great work in their portfolios already and were available on the day I would have a vehicle and would be able to drive to locations.  We started throwing around goddess ideas and decided on Oonagh, Queen of the Fairies (or Queen Mab or Titania) for Alley, Persephone for Mary and finally Morrigan for Shawna.  Because they were all from the Vancouver, WA area I decided that the hour-long drive to them made the most sense, since they were far more familiar with that area than the Portland area.

I was lucky that my friend Erica Templeman was interested in creating a dress for Oonagh because she loved the concept, and she made a gorgeous piece that really made the images perfect!  She also amazingly created the entire dress from entirely thrifted elements!!  I also made a couple of flower wreath headpieces to go with the concept, which brought the wardrobe together!  Mary and Shawna brought their own wardrobe and props and really went all out!  I was lucky that they were so passionate about their concepts and were dedicated to putting together the perfect pieces for their goddess characters.  Alley also found a hair stylist/ makeup artist to assist us with her slightly more complicated look, and it rounded out the team quite nicely.

I started the day meeting Alley at her place in Vancouver and getting her into her wardrobe after she had been getting her hair and makeup done for a couple hours.  I unfortunately got lost on the way and ended up being 30 minutes late, which did actually work out because they were just finishing up hair and makeup when I arrived.  We got Alley into her dress, jumped into the car and headed to the first location, a beautiful huge tree in the middle of a field.  We took some great photos of the dress (before we got it dirty) and makeup, as well as exploring a few ideas about what a fairy queen might be doing in a field.  We had a quick makeup change and headed to our second location, which was an amazingly beautiful forest down the road. The trees were HUGE and everything was green- covered in moss and lichen, a truly magical little world.  We tromped through the woods looking for the perfect setting for our queen and Alley led us to a beautiful tree which had fallen over, revealing the root system, which made a lovely throne.  With rain constantly threatening, we set up the lighting, and started shooting to get as much material to work with for composites, exploring different poses and positions.  We worked fairly quickly and got what we needed in about 30 minutes, which was amazing!

After dropping Alley back off, Jae and I headed to another location on the other side of Vancouver; a beautiful state forest abutting a lake.  As we waited for Mary and Shawna to arrive, it started pouring out.  I was determined that we would not call of the shoot, as long as the rain lightened up a little bit, we’d be able to stay and work through both concepts.  We did a bit of recon to see where on the main path would have the most coverage from the rain and also had interesting features and found a few places that I could see us working from.  Shawna and Mary arrived a little bit later and started getting into their wardrobe and makeup.  With everyone set to go, I loaded up on plastic trash bags to cover my lights and camera if necessary, grabbed our umbrellas and props and headed into the woods. It was definitely a tricky situation shooting in the rain, also having to move aside for the dozen or so people who passed us on the path while we were working.  But, we got both Shawna and Mary’s concepts completed and none of the equipment got wet!

 

Here are final images from all three shoots!

Alley:

TWallDuggan_Alley_Oonagh-2

TWallDuggan_Oonagh-Tintype-1

and the image created for the Female Archetype Project

TWallDuggan_Oonagh-1

Mary:
TWallDuggan_Mary-Persephone-1

TWallDuggan_Mary-Persephone-3

And the image for the Female Archetype Project

TWallDuggan_Mary-Persephone-2

And Finally, Shawna: 


TWallDuggan_Shawna-Morrigan-1

TWallDuggan_Shawna-Morrigan-2

TWallDuggan_Shawna-Morrigan-3

Thank you to everyone who was involved in making these amazing images: Alley Blom, Mary Ward, Shawna Colton, Brittany Nowers, and Erica Templeman as well as Joe for letting Jae and I crash at his place, and his lovely other half Jen who let us borrow her car, and of course my husband Jae who was my chauffeur and voice-activated light stand for the day!

Posted in Female Archetype Project, Fine Art Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , |