The smell of ether is sharp, sweetish, acidic and strangely sensual. The darkroom had been improvised from a closet at the Morris Museum of Art. Since the process is not as sensitive as conventional methods, the room wasn’t completely light tight. I pulled the dark curtain across the cracks of light escaping through the door frame and flipped off the “white light.”
“It’s like magic,” the woman said. We watched the chemicals spread across the aluminum plate. An image began to materialize.
“…or science.” said Keliy. The tintype lay across her gloved palm. She rotated her wrist to coat the plate evenly with developer. When she was satisfied, she tilted it until a corner of the tintype rested inside the mouth of a glass bottle and then poured the excess liquid off.
The dreamy alchemy, the deft ritual and the strange chemical smells were spellbinding.
Wet plate collodion, which dates back to the 1800’s, has been experiencing a revival in the last few decades as a boutique historical photographic process. I was assisting one of the preeminent artists using this method.
The entire process must be started and completed with a wet plate within ten minutes so agility is required. In the 19th century, where it began, the sitter had to remain as still as possible for an excruciating long exposure.
Now you know why people looked so grumpy in those old-timey photographs.
On this day, Keliy was exposing at a ten-twelve second average.
A tintype is a positive image that is made right on the metal plate.
A little fussier than Instagram, sure, but the uniqueness and craft of that singular image is a handmade, one-of-a-kind artist’s original. The very existence of the tintypes today physically connects us to a rich photographic history.
Even though I wore my gloves like I was instructed, the silver nitrate left a zizag across my pinkie nail; a little bronze lightning bolt. An initiation.
Observing Kiley Anderson-Staley, I would have to say that an artist of this measure must be equipped with many things; not the least of which is, generosity.
She instructed, informed, posed models, and squeezed people in to a packed schedule with grace and patience.
Think you might like this? Give it a whirl! Here are two kits to get you started.