our friend emily hall is now officially making tin types. you may recall that emily had a successful kickstarter campaign. she went west this past spring and learned how to pour plates and is now making them in athens. it is a very special experience, watching her work...she was making them at A World Away, and then she came to our backyard last weekend to make more. here are some images, as well as some words that explain her process.
what do you call your process? I call my process as tintype. I make tintypes. The process that I am creating is technically called "aluminotype" which is a category that falls under wet plate collodion process. (Collodion refers to the emulsion process and the "tin", "ferro", "ambro", etc type refers to the medium.) I refer to my process as "tintype" not just because of the physical element but also the historical. Tin was known to be inexpensive in the the nineteenth century (i.e tin penny,etc) and it is a reference to this type of portraiture being cheap and readily available to all people. Tintypes were the first form of mass portraiture and I am inspired by that.. There is something alluring about the historical significance that it played in portrait photography. Although, now it is less available and less inexpensive, I want to acknowledge it as it was in it's original form.
when were you first introduced to the process? At my first/last Civil War reenactment in Perryville, Ky. I was there joining some friends on a documentary shoot for the Battle of Perryville and I came across an artist named Bob Szabo who was making beautiful plates for reenactors. I left wanting to learn how and I think I even wrote him a letter asking if I could watch him work, but never heard back and I put it in the back of my mind.. And then there was Sally Mann and her work with wet plate and I have always thought everything she did was so beautiful. But how do you aspire to be Sally Mann? So it just kinda sat in the back of my head for a while...
what made you want to learn how to do it? While working on an art project two summers ago with a dear friend in Portland, ME, we had an artist, Cole Caswell, make our tintype portraits. And that was the end of that. I hate having my picture made.. I'm the worst in front of a camera but when Cole handed me our portraits, that was it. I had to do it. I needed to make things that were this beautiful and haunting and powerful. I came home and bought a couple books, read blogs and then decided the best way to learn was with someone and there were a couple of people out there offering workshops and I figured out a way to get out there. And for me, "there" was Yosemite with Will Dunniway.
what was it like being out west learning the process? An amazing adventure. It was above all things, the most artistically rewarding thing I have ever done. I studied in Yosemite National Park with Will Dunniway and Bob Szabo (fate! destiny!) and that place with those people, was incredible. A majestic place with rich historical ties to collodion photography and standing in the valley of photo history trying to create a historical process was totally rad. And then being there with a purpose, with the emotional and financial support from my Kickstarter campaign, from loved one's and strangers, gave me a sense of important purpose. It wasn't just a fun photographic vacation.. but a mission. I studied with 8 other students who had traveled near and far to take place in the first ever wet plate workshop Yosemite had ever hosted. We stayed in the park in a rangers cabin. It was a lot like church camp with glacier formations, waterfalls, and wildlife. We spent each day out in the field making wet plates and learning from each other's mistakes and then came home exhausted to eat spaghetti and clean plates for the next day. Will and Bob are incredible teachers and artists. I met some amazing people and more importantly, a support group. If I have questions or need a hand I have people that are excited and willing to help me figure it out.. And I can't say enough about how beautiful Yosemite is. If you have never been.. you should go. And look at Carl E Watkin's work too.
what is the biggest challenge with this type of photographic process? My inexperience. The temperamental nature of the chemistry. Not being able to control the sun, which you need to make plates.
what is your favorite thing about this process? The beauty. Even my mistake plates are more beautiful (to me) than my properly exposed 35mm or 120 mm prints. It is so different from my commerical work. Every plate takes on its own profile that is part design and part mystery. They are magical and haunting and extraordinarily original. No two plates are ever the same. Ever. The only way to reproduce is by taking a photo of the original. Each has it's own fingerprint and in a digital world, where everything is mass produced and multiplied, something that is not only hand crafted, but truly one of a kind, is rare and worthwhile.
thanks, emily, for your time and for the inspiration!
words by emily hall . questions & photographs by rinne allen