The Past as Future: Wet Plate Photography

The New York Times recently ran a fashion feature on the resurgence of 19th century influenced clothing styles. The images were tintypes shot by David Sokosh. For those of you who aren’t familiar with tintypes, they are an example of a photographic technique popular during the middle of the 19 century. The Times also included a slide show on his process.

Wet plate photography, which includes tintype, involves coating a piece of glass or metal with a light sensitive material and exposing, then developing it before it dries. If getting the exposure and development time for the photography wasn’t enough, you now have a game show clock ticking in the background as you run from your portable darkroom to the camera and back for each shot.

It turns out that wet plate photography has been undergoing a bit of a resurgence since it was replaced by more robust technologies over 100 years ago. It transmits an “old time” emotion, and a level of random messiness that is favored by many modern artists. One of the most effective is the surf portraiture of Joni Sternbach. There is a great interview on the Double Exposure website.

Other photographers using wet plate processes include Sally Mann with her images of death, and Bruce Schultz, with his period look portraiture.

For those of you who are inspired to try you hand at this craft, there areonline tutorials, and even workshops.

But isn’t there a tintype setting in Photoshop? Of course. There are even metal blanks to put into your printer. But imitating the process is not the same as creating one of a kind PITA originals. Selling digital reproductions of these images is another story altogether. Still, we found a nice tutorial on making a faux tintype.

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