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Thursday, 12 November 2009


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Dude could have saved himself a lot of time by shooting RAW and selecting the "tintype" preset in Lightroom :)

I like (and still do) chemical photography, but this leaves me cold. I'm a huge Neal Stephenson fan, so I've been aware of Neo Vickies since "The Diamond Age", and I understand the whole "steampunk" aesthetic, although I think it's massively overdone, and rarely well. But don't really get this. You can sorta, kinda, justify certain anachronisms. Like a view camera, because of the enhanced control and quality of the picture making process, in theory at least. But this... just seems like a whole lot of work to create an image that's both inferior technically and a PITA to create. Just snap the pic with a toy camera, scan it, and throw a crappy frame on it in Photoshop. Really. Same effect, a lot less work. The value of an old tintype is as a historical document, because it's a crappy picture but it's a crappy picture of someone's great-grandfather when he was a strapping young buck, and not the wizened, shrunken old man everyone now alive remembers. When it's a tintype taken last Tuesday of some guy that's actually still a young man, it's just an affectation.

So is it the optics in the camera flipping the image on the horizontal? The tintype shows a guy holding a left-handed rifle in his right hand. I'm pretty sure that the scene was of a guy holding a right-handed rifle in his left hand.

Maybe the NY times should have checked their history books first. The 1890s and tintypes are separated by oh, about a quarter century!

I hope you checked out the prices of that gear. New York must be on a different planet.

Dude should be wearing tweed not denim.


"So is it the optics in the camera flipping the image on the horizontal? The tintype shows a guy holding a left-handed rifle in his right hand. I'm pretty sure that the scene was of a guy holding a right-handed rifle in his left hand."

Probably flipped it to make it work with the layout. Most times, you want the guy looking into the page, rather than out of it, and art directors have very few qualms about doing this...


to Craig and Ray: it's not about the destination, but the journey.

I read in the Times about a tog who makes albumen prints.

So I wrote to "Lens" that he could do the same thing with the right type of inkjet paper and Photoshop, even Elements.

I swear, some people really like to make things difficult. Why use a computer, when you can expose yourself to noxious chemicals? I'm waiting for a column how someone pines for chromium intensifier.

I can think of no better way to truly understand any photographic process than by doing it. I didn't 'get' DOF on 4/3rds compared to 35mm until I shot over 5000 images and started printing big. Yes, I could quote you the equivalents, but doing, and therefore understanding is different.

Doing tintypes is a excellent, empirical, way to understand the limits of the technology. Without someone going to the trouble of gaining that experience, what are we left with? Hearsay? Speculation? There is tremendous value in being able to email a contemporary who has actual experience! Historical re-enactments are not just hobbies or tourist spectacle: they are a way of encoding knowledge and understanding in a computer that responds to natural language queries. A computer that might even buy you a beer, if they like you.


Ray, like with many hobbies it's the doing that's the point, not the result. Sure, you could make a near-identical image in PS, but then, where would the fun be in that.

In fact, if photography really were only about the result, then most of us should sell our photo gear and use the money to buy postcards, and the occasional studio portrait. Better images, for less work and less money spent.

I use film, including an MF box camera, because I find it rewarding. I develop myself because, to me, it's fun. A few years ago I spent my entire winter holiday building a temperature sensor and software to collect, analyze and present the data. It's been running on a discarded laptop since then. An off-the-shelf outdoor thermometer with data logging and all would have taken five minutes to set up and would have cost less than just the materials I used - but that would not have been nearly as much fun.

Tintype, to me, looks like a blast.

re: "flipping the image" - the image coming from the scene is both reversed horizontally and reversed vertically by the lens, which amounts to the same as a correct image that has been revolved 180 degrees. However, that is based on looking in the same direction as the camera lens - which is the case for the back face of the tintype plate, and also for a ground glass screen seen from the back. In order to view the front face of a tintype plate you need to flip it laterally one more time, which means the final image (as projected on it) is left-to-right reversed.

This means the portrait clients see an image that corresponds to what they are used to seeing in a mirror; so they will probably conclude it is a good likeness.

Why is a "neo-Victorian" holding a modern looking bolt-action rifle with an even more modern flared pistol grip?

Get that man a Purdy side by side, or at least a knock-off of a Model 1893 Mauser, for heaven's sake.

I have to admit rather liking the tin-types. But I'm a sucker for turn of the century technology, what with being a historian and all. ;)

"So is it the optics in the camera flipping the image on the horizontal? "

Yes, of course it does, just like every other camera except for integral pack Polaroids and some cameras with periscope optical systems.

As for the idea that you can make a photograph look like a tintype in Photoshop, well you can't any more than you can make a photograph of a tree look like a tree in Photoshop. Reproduced in print or on a screen they may look the same but if you hold a photo of a tree next to a tree in the real world they do indeed look different.

That said, I had a copy of todays NY Times style section open to those photographs all afternoon and didn't notice them until I saw this post because they don't reproduce so well on newsprint.

The Window Watchers piece in the Home section is pretty neat even in reproduction however.

I met David Sokosh at a friend's opening last week, very nice guy who was amused when I told some photo students how brave he was to use a process that had so many ways to go catastrophically wrong.

I'm always amazed when people think they know what unusual or archaic photo processes look like when they have only seen reproductions of them. Jerry Spagnoli's daguerreotypes are a another good example of work that is imposable to reproduce in any other way.

If I ever see another Polaroid type 55 "border" on a color photo I'm inclined to do violence to the person responsible.

I think this kind of thing will survive much longer than photography of the current type -- digital SLRs and point and shoots. In fifty years, when everyone's cell phone is a high-resolution continuous-video 3D computational photography device, no one is going to be making anything like today's mass-market SLRs. (Because there literally will be no mass market for them.)

And professionals will use an even more advanced version of the same. None of this current bothering with focusing or aperture or shutter speed or lenses -- all that's added in post-processing, if you want.

Maybe a few people like my super-genius engineer friend will make their own digital cameras similar to what we have today, but more likely, people who are interested in photography as an art and as a process will gravitate towards photographic technology which emphasizes that.

If it's all about the final result to you and none of this makes any sense, that's fine -- you'll be super-happy with the future cameras, because their results will be stunning. But that won't be everyone.

James, tintypes, like all other similar "direct" processes (ambrotypes, daguerreotypes, etc.) do "reverse" the image. Think of them as a transparency but viewed "from the wrong side" or as a negative.

As an aside, because of the ubiquitous nature of modern photography, when a daguerreotype (I think, can't find the reference at the moment) of Billy the Kid was found there was a period of time when historians talked about him being left handed owing to them being unaware of the mirror effect of the process. It wasn't until someone with a knowledge of photographic techniques looked at the image that the misconception was sorted out.

And Ray, as someone who has seen many tintypes I will admit some are crappy, like the photos I see every day from people with expensive cameras and no talent. Nothing changes. But a good tintype, like any good image is beautiful, and has a clarity and definition that is something to marvel at.

Ease of production is not the best arbitrator of value. If it was then Michelangelo would have used a roller when painting ceilings ....

Brave man! Great photos too. Tintypes are historical documents but its good to see that the skill hasn't died. Yeah you can recreate it in photoshop, just like you can use an chainsaw to cut a tree down. But seeing a lumberjack using a single handed bucksaw is pretty awesome too, although pretty irrelevant in the modern world.

I personally think the process has a great deal of charm, but then again I've seen hundreds and hundreds of real tintypes.

The thing that bothers me about them (not so much these, but modern tintypes generally) is the often self-consciously and affectedly "retro" subject matter...that's what appears fake to me, not the process.

As for whether the practice is legitimate, I certainly think it is. We all do what interests us, what we love, and what we enjoy doing. In fact, the late Phil Davis's whole philosophy of photography was that the point was the process, not the results. In almost every case, he considered the end result of the production of photographs to be waste product, although he sometimes (in private) used more scatological terms for it! We had numerous long arguments about this, one of which I have preserved somewhere (I think).


Checked out the image set. Wo. I am unable to fully name the emotion I feel upon learning that plaid suits are fashionable again.

But RE: James (left handed rifle), crappy image quality, etc. A quick pop into PhotoRoom's "UnTin" facility fixes all. (With the ModernEyz plugin, you can even normalize the fashions to any year since 1965.) There is as yet no technology for the mutant male model look other than cutting and pasting heads, but we all know how to do that. Madonna is a perennial favorite.

As a dedicated tinkerer I once investigated tintypes and other old-timey ways but finally decided to be unique and create my own process. That's how the SkinType (TM) came to be.

The camera is bulky, works only on sunny days, and the images age too quickly from ripe red sunburn to peel, to tan, to a sort of scaly precancerous scab (still working on this though). Did I mention the six-hour exposure times?

Well, at least I never need parts, the camera is batteryless, and immune to obsolescence. Film holders are everywhere too -- 6.5 billion already, with many more in the pipeline. The fashion industry will go ape over this.

A bit ho hum I prefer the tintype work of Robb Kendrick


Carl Mosher:
I don't dispute that to understand a technology you have to use it. I question the utility of learning obsolete technology, especially when there's nothing that tech offers that it's descendants don't. The nature of technology is to eventually get superseded and abandoned. People didn't use tintype for the love of it, or for some complicated reason; they used it because it was the limit of technology at the time. Give the average photographer of the period a medium format SLR (we'll stick with film, since explaining computers might give him a heart attack), and once he understood how it worked he'd giggle like a schoolgirl and never touch another plate.

I respect that, but I tend to think that viewpoint fetishizes method over output. IMHO the method is meaningless (which I'll guess is where the philosophical divide on this issue resides), unless it's intrinsically helpful or a hindrance towards producing the desired results. I backed into photography from other visual arts, so a camera was/is an efficiency decision. It just plain captures images faster and more accurately than I can draw them.

If someone enjoys it, great, that adds value for them, but to me as an outside observer it holds no attraction.

David Boyce:
I don't think I claimed that ease of production was the arbitrator of value. It is, however, the arbitrator or efficiency. If two identical images are produced, one that took X amount of effort, the other taking X + Y, Y amount of effort was essentially wasted.

Again, tech is a means to an end, and undoubtedly people use any and all technology for wondrous, awful, and astoundingly mediocre work. That has more to do with the artist than the medium.

"People didn't use tintype for the love of it, or for some complicated reason; they used it because it was the limit of technology at the time."

Not really. It was always known as a sort of "cheap" medium for less prosperous customers. It was introduced in the mid-1850s and was generally outmoded by the 1860s, but it continued to be used for more than half a century after that, especially in then-democratic America. I'm not sure that at any time in its long period of currency there wasn't some better technique available, or several.


Legitimate? Period-correct? At best it's a curiosity. I enjoy seeing genuine images of their period with authentic subjects. But "photo-tech" was right with his opening remark. This work may be fascinating to pursue as a craft and the photographer might be a terrific guy at gallery show openings. But this stuff is hardly more genuine than a digitally-generated style affectation.

The future of photography, or even its current, is not in the past. Only its past is there.

Yeah, "retro" sucks to use the technical term.

When photographers use the medium more thoughtfully it works a lot better. I think that Joni Sternbach's tintypes of surfers and seascapes display an almost perfect synthesis of subject and technique

David Sokosh does some nice non-fashion non-retro stuff

In the same spirit, I intend to remove a swollen gall-bladder next Tuesday on the rolling deck of one of his Gracious Majesty King George III's sloops, using 18th century instruments, a shot of rum and a leather strap upon which to bite. May I ask for a volunteer patient from among TOP's readership to assist me in recreating this important historical event?

Has anybody read Sally Mann´s new book "Proud Flesh"? I´ll be ordering it next month, NO lightroom or photoshop round there!! Those guys who were left cold with these Tintypes should have a look at Sally Mann´s "Deep South" or "What Remains".

"But seeing a lumberjack using a single handed bucksaw is pretty awesome too"

I'm a lumberjack, and I'm okay.
I sleep all night and I work all day.

I cut down trees. I eat my lunch.
I go to the lavatory.
On Wednesdays I go shoppin'
And have buttered scones for tea.

I cut down trees. I skip and jump.
I like to press wild flowers.
I put on women's clothing
And hang around in bars.

I cut down trees. I wear high heels,
Suspendies, and a bra.
I wish I'd been a girlie,
Just like my dear mama.

I happen to have Robert Adams "Beauty In photography" next to me. The moment I saw the shot I flipped to the Making Art New, essay.

"And I am worried by the amount of time spent by photographers in trying revive nineteenth century photographic technology. There are conceivably uses to be made by almost any photographic method, but so many contemporary enthusiasts for old ways seem to place their faith simply in the value of doing the antique thing once more. The results can be momentarily charming, but they are often finally sad, a footnote to history, arcane and a little saccharine."


The shot above and What you said about Phil Davis reminded me of a post Jörg Colberg's made on his blog


The thing that bothers me about them (not so much these, but modern tintypes generally) is the often self-consciously and affectedly "retro" subject matter...that's what appears fake to me, not the process.

A bit like the fact that 99% of all cyanotypes I have seen are of a single flower in a vase!

To me the primary reason for using tin type was the advertising. Can't imagine the art director gave a rats ass how the result was obtained until the increased advertising potential of the medium, as evidenced by the above screeds of writing, was pointed out to him. Pseudo olde worlde photos are quite common in advertising but by using tin type they have managed to generate a lot more interest. Can't imagine MJ alluding to mens fashion otherwise.

But as someone has pointed out the beauty of the images is mostly lost when they're not viewed in the flesh

I think this is kind of cool. Yes, it's long outdated and obsoleted technology, but the fact that some people are still doing it is somewhat akin to the people who keep old steam trains running, or the people who every year drive from London to Brighton in antique automobiles without modern comforts like a roof, windows, heating, or good brakes!

I guess it's something you have to do for the love of it.

@Dave Sailer: something like your "skintype" dermal sensitive process has already been seen, but in the vegetable kingdom instead.

Grass exposures were shown at Wimbledon tennis tournament last year.

Mike -

The total value of the items shown on those images is $56,672. Methinks you would do well try to get sponsored links for Barney's, Bergdorf, et al., instead of Amazon and B&H :)

(Yes, it was a slow lunch hour in the office.)

Sigh. Does anyone remember when you had to actual work to a get a usable image? The older processes folks keep alive are useful not just to keep the skill and craft of photography alive - what you learn in photoshop just doesn't seem to help your photography as much as working in a darkroom(but that could just be me), but something more. Every form of art, each unique medium and method, is like a language. Sure, we could all speak English, or french, or Esperanto, but there are hidden wonders in each language in the world, and humanity as a whole suffers when we lose ways to express the world around us.

"Has anybody read Sally Mann´s new book "Proud Flesh"? I´ll be ordering it next month, NO lightroom or photoshop round there!! Those guys who were left cold with these Tintypes should have a look at Sally Mann´s "Deep South" or "What Remains".

I have it and it's her best work since Immediate Family. I must say though that it's Sally Mann that makes the work so good. Give the same camera to any of us here and it would be doubtful that we'd come close to it. The beauty in Mann's work goes beyond aesthetics where as the above is little more than that, but then it's fashion so no surprises there.

Talk about mis-informed over criticism! When shooting or preparing to shoot, one holds the forearm of a left-handed rifle in their right hand and manipulates the bolt and pulls the trigger using their left hand. This is as indicated in the picture. For gear heads, the rifle looks to be (can't tell exactly) a classic steyr mannlicher that is the firearm enthusiasts equivalent of a Leica camera. Nice work! Yes, you can quickly approximate the look in photoshop but then you miss out on the journey, which is the whole point of the exercise.

Let's not forget what these images are: An ad campaign. As such, I will comment on the items being advertised for sale.

These "high fashion" clothes are in some ways the equivalent of Leica cameras. Sure, they're really nice and expensive, and people will stare at you on the street, but most of us get along just fine with a $20 pair of jeans from the clearance rack.

A bit like the fact that 99% of all cyanotypes I have seen are of a single flower in a vase!"

Um yeah but like 99% of all digital photographs are of cats, babies and buildings.

Why argue about this stuff? You could take an awesome photograph with a Canon EOS camera, and you could take an awesome pinhole picture and an awesome albumin view camera whatever. And you could take crappy pictures with all of those things too.

I'd say most photographs are bad, unless you know the people in them. And even then, most of those photographs are bad. The worst photographs, by far, are the ones by people who are just getting into being "photographers". That's when you see a lot of flowers, vases, cats, and babies.

But to say that you can mimic the look of an old antiquated process by clicking something in Lightroom...that is an attitude that is objectionable to me. First of all, however low-brow tintypes ever were, they are printed on metal, and they look different. You can't pop a piece of tin in your epson and have it look the same. Secondly, the process accounts for something doesn't it? I really admire view camera photographers, I don't understand the methods and how they work, and how I can bang out 15 shots and get one good one, and they hit maybe 4 and get 1 good one. The method is different, the pictures will be different and I hope they keep doing it.

I'm not a huge fan of these pictures, they are not all that exciting. And his personal work on his website I found less interesting. But I think there are very valid and interesting reasons to be using old processes. The best reason is "I want to."

I think I remember an essay from Mike along these lines, like "you want to do it, knock yourself out, just do it." From luminous-landscape I think.

There is a tintype studio at Ford's Greenfield Village in Detroit. You can sit for a tintype portrait in the period costumes they have on hand.
You can see an example at:

Nostalgia: looking at the past, through rose colored glasses.

Rob Gibson was photographing a Civil War re-enactment, when those old timey chemicals combusted, and severly burned his wife.

Sorry, I'll stick with my computer. I love that gall bladder satire, above. That's where the expression "bite the bullet" came from.

Sorry I'm late to the game-- I'm willing to bet 99.9% of the population has no idea what a "Tin Type" is, all they see are bad looking photo's. Just scanned and resurrected a few old tin types yesterday. Myself I'm learning "Cave Painting" I hear it was all the rage 30,000 years ago. Ah the good old days.

There's a movie I like very much for its photography and overall style, The Proposition. It's an Australian Western (for lack of a better name). I like very much how historic pictures are used in the start and mixed with same style shots of actual movie scenes. The spirit is a lot more raw and may be even gruesome than these, but I think it's very well done. Worth checking.

"Myself I'm learning "Cave Painting"

Of course cave painting is better. You can't learn about pigments from inkjet. Will an inkjet print last as long as a cave painting?

30,000 years from now, there will still be cave paintings, but inkjet prints will have faded away.

I don't know if there are bolt action rifles that are left handed, just like Exacta 35mm SLRs, but I know that no clothing manufacturer would attempt to sell clothing that buttoned the feminine way to men.

Also it's is not an advertisement, it's editorial photography. The idea is that you do a feature article about stuff that perhaps no one will buy and sell ad space next to it for cheaper less edgy stuff.

In the 80s I worked on a shoot for New York magazine where some of the models were wearing v-neck sweaters backwards because Bloomingdale's didn't have any crew necks in the colors we wanted. I think the photos were for a story about umbrellas or eyeglasses or maybe a rock band. Anyway, photo credit was given for everything in the picture as per custom including the sweaters.

Much hilarity ensued when customers tried to buy the nonexistent sweaters at Bloomingdale's. Definitely NOT an advertisement.

The eyeglass frames are anachronistic, as is the 1972 long hair-do. Left-handed bolt actions are acceptable, but not the rifle stock, which is at least 1930 vintage if not later.

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