17 Oct 2013

Toxic and flammable, my two best friends! Or, get your tintype on...

Hello there loyal blogfans. I apologise for the radio silence from Leedale Towers. I've been much too busy being out and about shooting to actually post anything. There'll be a bumper crop coming up, featuring babies, weddings, theatre types and more...

To kick off the latest set of posts I thought I'd share a snippet of one of the things I was off doing; working for L A Noble Gallery at Amsterdam's Unseen Photo Fair. The fair, in its second year, attracts exhibiting galleries from all over Europe, the UK, and even a few from Asia, and pulls in a varied crowd of both serious and new-to-the-market collectors as well as art students and the generally-interested crew. 

The organisation was impeccable and the team of exhibitor relations co-ordinators were unceasingly charming, helpful, and easy-going. The massive team of volunteers kept all the visitors happy and with plenty of events there was lots to see and do even for those not buying.

In the midst of a stupendously busy few days, with Gallery Director Laura and I manning the stand, answering questions, chatting with clients, selling mightily, and packing like crazy at the end of it all, we found an hour to sneak away to the Tintype Studio.

Run by photographers Arjen and Manon of partnership Went and Navarro, in collaboration with Alchemist Alex Timmermans, it gives customers the chance to experience portrait photography the old-fashioned way. You can have your photograph taken using a number of different processes - tintype, ambrotype, and so on. These wet-plate processes create a positive image (ie how you would see yourself in a mirror rather than how you appear to others) on a sheet of tin or glass. In the case of tintypes, the sheet of tin is then dipped in developer to change the negative to a positive image and is completely unique. Due to the opaque nature of the mounting material it cannot be used to make multiple prints. 

All that techie info aside, the whole process is contemplative, and cannot be hurried - on a cloudy day at Unseen each exposure took 6 or 7 seconds. The resulting image is lush, with deep blacks and an incredibly shallow depth of field which lends the figure in the portrait an astonishingly three-dimensional quality. In a  aside, the process picks up reds and renders them as very dark, so red hair, freckles and other sun spots, or red lipsticks come out super sharp looking! There's no escaping your flaws as there's no Photoshop and the chemicals and gorgeous old glass lenses render every detail beautifully crisp and lifelike; it's a process that celebrates reality while revisiting the past. 

And so, onto Laura's session! We were there before the hoi polloi that day.

 Left: Alex Timmermans looks disappointed in modern tech, right: Arjen adjusts the neck brace on their test subject for the morning.
The cameras make me feel ashamed of whinging about hauling round my Canons.
Manon directs the model a little.
Varnish and stamps await the finished product for the day.
How the image looks before its dip in the developer.
...And coming out (now a positive image) - I love everyone filming it on their phones.
Even the gear has a romance that cannot be matched by digital...look at that typeface on the left!
It's Laura's turn to be strapped into the chair.
Strike a pose...
The view from under the hood.
And in the lens...
'So, now you just have to stay still for three seconds...'
Quick! Shot captured, it's into the tent to give it the first chemical bath.
Gotta capture the magic happening.
The negative image on the plate.

Now, for a peek at the literally jaw-dropping process of converting from negative to positive check out the video on Laura's blog post (where you can also see my shot from the Inside Out Project!)
Arjen gives the plate a wash.
The amazing finished product.

After the image is developed and dried, it is given a coat of varnish, and packed in a box for transport. The smell of ether and varnish lingers in the air (prompting Manon's exclamation that gives this blog post its name!) and the whole hour showed photography at its most sensual and tactile. The finished piece really is an incredible object, and I absolutely plan to be in touch with The Tintype Studio next time I'm in Holland to get my own.


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