The Wet Plate Collodion Tintypes of Lane County Artists & Artisans portrait series celebrates Lane County artists and artisans through traditional wet plate collodion tintype portraits. While immersing myself in learning this historic photographic technique, I wanted my first project in the medium to honor other artists and artisans who utilize historical processes, hone their craft, work with their hands and keep creative traditions alive through their work. I’m grateful to the artists who have sat for this project thus far, for their patience and encouragement as I work with this challenging medium. I look forward to continuing to work with the diverse types of creative people who enrich our communities with their crafts, skills and knowledge. Please see more information about the artisans featured in this project in the project blog!
Exhibitions & Events
This project is made possible in part by an Individual Artist Grant from Lane Arts Council, with support from City of Eugene Cultural Services, Banner Bank, and individual donors. I will continue this work with additional support through the Jane Stevens King Artist in Residence Program through Lane Community College's Visual Arts Program. I'm also grateful to have received mentorship from Portland fine art photographer Ray Bidegain.
I also want to acknowledge where I live and work occupies the traditional homelands of the Kalapuya and Siuslaw peoples, and I extend my gratitude to the land and to all of those who've stewarded it throughout the generations.
What are Tintypes?
A Bit of History
Wet plate collodion is an early photographic technique created in 1851, and the first that made portraits accessible and affordable for working class people. Traditionally glass (ambrotypes) or japanned iron (tintypes) were used. Wet plate collodion was the predominant form of photography from the 1850s until the introduction of the dry plate technique in the 1880s. Itinerant photographers continued the tintype business on into the 1930s, setting up studio tents at public gatherings, such as fairs and carnivals. The process has undergone a revival in the twenty first century and is practiced today by a handful of photographers around the world.
Tintypes are one of a kind and highly archival. Once the fragile silver emulsion is coated in varnish, a tintype can last for generations. Many of the tintypes created in the 1850s remain of high quality today.
Photo: Roger Fenton's photographic van used in the Crimean War, with his assistant posing on its bench, 1855. Library of Congress
How are Wet Plate Tintypes Made?
The process requires the plate be coated with a salted collodion mix, sensitized in a silver nitrate solution, the wet plate exposed in camera and developed before the plate dries - within about fifteen minutes! This necessitates a portable darkroom to process images in the field. The plates are then fixed and washed. The silver emulsion remains very fragile and needs to be varnished to protect the image. Varnishing is one of the most dreaded steps of the process, but is required for longevity. Gum sandarac and shellac are varnishes traditionally used.
With a vintage 4x5 Burke & James view camera and an antique brass lens, I’m creating 4x5 tintype portraits. I’ve been working outdoors with natural light, as the process requires a significant amount of UV light and long exposure times. This requires the sitter to hold still and be present with a slow process, giving them an experience quite different from modern photography. This process makes for incredibly personal, intimate and unique portraits.
I'm utilizing traditional wet plate collodion processes with a few modern conveniences. This process requires a portable darkroom to process in the field, and I've gone with a modern option that is affordable, portable, and already mostly light tight - an indoor grow propagation tent. My plates are varnished in sandarac lavender varnish, although I use a hot water tank and a hot plate instead of using the traditional open flame process.
Today there are photographers and educators are keeping the wet plate collodion photographic process alive. I had the opportunity to work with Portland Oregon fine art photographer Ray Bidegain, whose mentorship has helped me immensely along my wet plate journey.
Other modern wet plate photographers and educators I've been inspired by include Sally Mann, John Coffer, Mark and France Scully Osterman, Borut Peterlin, Joni Sternbach, Lisa Elmaleh, Carla Rodriguez, Quinn Jacobsen, Kali Spitzer, Shane Balkowitsch, Joseph Kayne, and Jason Chinchen, amongst others.