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Tuesday, 15 March 2016


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I don't know if the technology would be appropriate for the historical period but it would be cool to see him at a Civil war reenactment.

Never mind... I should read the articles more carefully.. or at all :/

John looks like he has a "halo" over his head. I took a double-take. It sheds a whole new light on his portrait.

I bought his book and have sent leters back and forth a few times to him. He responds pretty fast and seems like a really nice guy. I hope to take his workshop one day. I had a friend who did and loved it.

John strikes me as a 'Leon Redbone' of the photography world...and that's no bad thing.

I find it surprising that he seems to use a modern tripod, Looks quite out of place. Two of the three wet plate shooters do the same thing (and at least one of them have done a camp with Coffer)

I often use a digital or other "modern" camera on a 19th century tripod. To my eye it's odd but not as glaringly off. But of course I do most of my serious work with cameras with one foot in the 19th century so I have lots of period tripods.

The third wet plate shooter I know does use period tripods, though his Ford is a Model A, which I hate to say, is a much better car than the T for long distance work. Maybe there is a picture of it on his web-site,

Tintypes democratized photography just as the Ford Model T democratized the automobile. Perhaps the same can be said for the first Macintosh computer.

The Ed Kirkpatrick story brought a tear, thanks to both for sharing

It is often said that the best way to make a small fortune in photography is to start with a large one. I think John Coffer might have found another way: Lower your yearly expenses to $2,000 (if that!) and after a few years of Tintype photography, and the associated lifestyle, you'll have a small fortune in your bank account.

Just pray the Jesse James gang doesn't hit your bank!

Ahem... *too* much

p.s. Mike you eye for correctness is normally better than this (one of the reasons I appreciate your work)

Dalvorius :)

I may be a confirmed digiphile, but I would be very sad if the practice of historical photography were forgotten.

For the same reason I love restored classic cars and historic flying aircraft, I love to get that sense of connection to the basic elements of the invention.

They are as relevant now as they ever were, but that is easily forgotten when you can pick up a camera and use it in full auto mode.

I don't think using aluminum is a sell out. I would say 90%+ of all current tintypers use aluminum. It is a better choice from iron which rusts, and you can recycle unwanted plates. I would have to imagine that most photographers during the Civil War would have used trophy aluminum if it was available. The whole idea of making positives on metal (which are actually underexposed negatives on a black background) was to get photographs made as quickly and cheaply as possible. Glass negatives took 2-3x the amount of exposure and then required albumen prints for positives.

John Coffer would be called "hardcore" (or progressive) by Civil War re-enactors.

He shoots a period appropriate process. Lives in log cabin without electricity in real life. Rides a buggy in an area where he blends in. That's harder than even the most obsessed hardcore re-enactor will attain.

But he does seem a bit farby too.

The tripod is not period authentic. Aluminum was rarer than gold at that time.

Are his eyeglasses period authentic? This a major issue for myope re-enactors who probably would never made the battlefield!

And the shoes are cropped in the shot. Getting real old boots is a hardcore dream and rarely realized. Along with period appropriate underwear.

It's an odd combination. I'd be curious to hear his views on his lifestyle versus hardcore re-enacting.

P.S. One of the best bits of writing about "hardcore re-enactors" is a chapter in Tony Horowitz's book Confederates in the Attic.

[There's also a great chapter about it in "The Same Axe Twice." --Mike]

I love this bloke, would like to go on a course of his (not going to happen, I live in Australia), but I am surprised that he does not cause the same reaction you had to infra-red photography years ago, I remember the article in your Lulu book. If a photograph is good, it does not need to be infra-red, or tintype or anything other than a good photograph. Over here, tintypes are everywhere and they get boring quite quickly.

Hey ho!

> the reason he settled in this area is that the horse and buggy he uses to
> get around in wouldn't seem peculiar here,

At first I misread that as "settled in this era..." and it made perfect sense until after the comma.

John normally uses an old wood tripod. As he explained to the crowd, he only used the modern tripod because he was shooting on the sidewalk, and the legs of the wooden tripod can slip on that surface - it is best used on the bare ground. This was not a re-enactment. He is stereotyped as some sort of uncompromising hardcore who thinks it's still the 19th century - but he has solar panels, a windmill, an electric bicycle, and is offering a primer on use of electric lights with wetplate. He likes ferrotypes because the blacks are blacker, they offer a heft and ruggedness that aluminum plates don't- and the images affix to magnets! Yes - they are much harder work to create - but that makes his work all the more unique. Lastly, all three of John's vehicles are indeed all Model Ts. The truck is a 1927 TT. He also has a 1924 ? Model T Coupe & a 1923 Model T Touring Car. All Model Ts. Not Model As.

What I like best about the hobo tin that John uses is, it's cool in many ways: it's cheap (you can pull the tins out of the free bin at yard sales), the quality of the black is deeper than what you get with aluminum, it's "green" in that it recycles trash that otherwise would be bound for the landfill, it's very much handmade, and each plate is entirely unique. Also, it's not just about the image, it's about holding the object in your hand, the feel and the weight of it (real ferrotypes are heavier than lightweight aluminum), and then of course, the back of the plate has a picture or graphics on it - unlike with aluminum. Sadly, nowadays, it seems that all people want is a transient image to scan and post on instagram or facebook. They don't care about the solid metal object you hold in your hand that will last over 100 years. Second comment ( I was at the event ) to the "farby" critic above. Maybe it wasn't clear, but this was a demo for on art gallery - John was out on the sidewalk in front of the art gallery, and we even watched while he shot a picture out in the busy main street (full of very noisy cars) with a brownie 3B camera. He clearly wasn't making any attempt whatsoever to put on a reenacting portrayal, which I know he does do, because I saw him once years ago at the Genesee Country Museum, where he did have the old glasses and the homespun clothes (black stains all over the apron) and the traveling photographic van pulled by his horse and all that.

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