Tag Archives: Tintype

Rendering The Spirit: Interview with Atalie Day Brown

What is your name?
My name is Atalie Day Brown and my husband’s name is Jared Brown.

Where are you from?
I grew up in small-town Cumberland, Maryland and my husband is from Crownsville, MD. We currently live in Pasadena, MD.

How did you get into photography as an art medium?
I have been obsessed with photography since I was a kid. My grandfather was an amateur photographer and I was always inspired by his imagery and talent. I have always been attracted to photography as an art form. Originally, I wanted to become a fine art photographer, it was only when I entered art school/college that I decided to focus more on photojournalism. My husband has had an on-going casual curiosity with photography, but he became more interested while I was going through art school. We decided a few years ago to pursue alternative processes together, as a team.

Which alternative processes do you practice?
We currently create tintypes and ambrotypes

What attracted you to alternative processes in general?
Alternative processes involve a deeper level of intent. It takes additional time and resources to create handmade imagery, therefore you must be purposeful when creating one. You have to consider so many factors and develop a plan. Our tintypes are made using an 8×10 Kodak Studio Camera, circa 1920, and a Petzval lens from 1868; thus, the equipment is large and cumbersome. This process is a labor of love and we appreciate the many aspects of its anatomy.

What drew you to the specific media you practice?
Tintypes have always been an interest to both me and my husband. We love the ethereal qualities tintypes lend to our subjects. Furthermore, the chemical process is a constant challenge, and we (mostly) enjoy combating those seemingly never-ending factors. The historical implications of the medium is also attractive, we love researching pioneers in this field. Another alluring part of the process is the individuality of every single image, no two are ever the same.

How does the choice of media influence your choice of subject matter (or vice versa)?
When creating tintypes, we are constantly debating what subject matter will translate honestly into a tintype image. We select people that are kindred spirits to the process, which can be very divisive. As for still life, we have found that organic matter adds a unique texture to the image. We also enjoy incorporating traditional tintype elements with the modern world.

In today’s mobile, electronic world of instant communication and virtual sharing of images, how important is it to you to create hand-made images?
Creating handmade images in this era of instant-gratification photography is extremely important to us. We are constantly inundated with snapshots, and while they have their place, creating a tangible piece of art using a time-consuming, obsolete medium is truly gratifying.

Is your choice to practice alternative, hand-made photography a reaction to, a complement to, or not influenced by the world of digital media?
Our decision to create alternative photographs is absolutely influenced by current digital media. However, we would have discovered the process regardless of digital media.

Do you incorporate digital media into your alternative process work?
No.

What role do you see for hand-made/alternative process work in the art world of today? Where do you see yourself in that world?
We see alternative processes offering a different avenue for artists who are interested in re-defining alternative mediums in a contemporary manner. I think these handmade processes will become more and more appealing as digital photography continues to dominate. The chemistry and darkroom is a magical place. We just hope to participate in the revival of this medium, one tintype at a time.

Skull, by Atalie Day Brown
Skull, by Atalie Day Brown

Rendering The Spirit opens March 18, with the Artists’ Reception on Saturday, March 26, from 6-8pm at Photoworks, 7300 MacArthur Boulevard, Glen Echo, Maryland, 20812.

Mid-19th Century (British?) Soldier with rifle, Gutta-percha case

My latest cased image acquisition. In contrast to the daguerreotype pair I just purchased, this is a tintype in a brass mat and frame in a gutta-percha (thermoplastic) case.

Case in Gutta-percha
Case in Gutta-percha

The case on this was even lovelier than I expected – there are no major chips or cracks, and the lock is in good working order. Oftentimes the clasping mechanism has become bent over the last 150 years and either tries to form a hermetic seal or refuses to hold the two halves together at all.

When you buy something like this, you never know entirely what you’re getting. Sellers don’t always describe everything with 100% accuracy, as much out of ignorance as anything else (rarely is it ill-will – lots of people just don’t know a lot about what they’re selling). This was described as of a post-Civil War US Army soldier. The fact that it is a tintype and not an ambrotype or a CDV would lend credence to that theory, as tintypes were immensely popular after the war, and although not exclusively an American phenomenon, their greatest popularity was in the United States. However, several things about the uniform suggest that A: it is not American, and B: it is potentially pre- or inter-war. In researching US Army uniforms, I found several uniform stylings from the 1840s-50s that bear a resemblance to the jacket he is wearing. But in my understanding of US Army uniforms (hardly encyclopedic) there was never a pith helmet issued. The rifle appears to be a percussion-cap rifle, which if American, could be an 1840s Harpers Ferry Arsenal product.

Another possibility is that this is a cadet at one of the private military academies. I can rule out The Citadel, VMI, and West Point as possibilities as their uniforms are sufficiently different, particularly in the cuffs of the sleeves.

Soldier Tintype, mat, frame and glass packet
Soldier Tintype, mat, frame and glass packet

This photo was taken out-of-doors as can be seen from the grass in the foreground stopping at the canvas backdrop.

You can also see on the scan of the tintype out of its packet that there are scuff marks from the mat. They appear to match the mat, but this is not definitive. The case just feels wrong for the image – it seems to be earlier than the image, and much fancier than you would associate with a tintype. My instinct tells me that sometime after the image was made, someone decided to do a case-ectomy and swap the original case, be it leather or a paper sleeve, for this one. The scratches to the emulsion also seem to suggest that this image was not in a case for its entire life.

British Soldier Tintype, out of packet
British Soldier Tintype, out of packet

Anonymous Vernacular photographs

Here’s a little gem I recently uncovered. No date, no attribution, no name of the subject. It’s a little approximately 1/6 plate tintype. Definitely not from a professional studio, as the plate is ragged – the edges appear to have been almost torn from a bigger sheet, and the collodion pour and/or development are uneven. The photo was taken in the field (literally – you can see the grass under the sitter’s chair, and the backdrop looks like it might have been a rug or blanket with some kind of fringe on top, thrown over a hastily erected backdrop stand). Still, the photographer went to the effort to tint the cheeks on the sitter. It brings to mind the civil war soldier portraits with the young men about to march off to war posing with pistols. I wonder, like with those war portraits, if the pistols are indeed property of the subject or if they are merely props he chose to pose with because they looked cool (many of the civil war soldier photos are using prop weapons that belonged to the studios. Many soldiers had not yet been issued firearms when they had their pictures taken, and they often posed with weapons inappropriate to their rank and status – enlisted men with non-government issue pistols, for example). Was he a saloon keeper? A lawman? The guns are kind of dinky, and he’s handling them rather casually. I think it’s the aura of uncertainty that lingers with an image like this that makes it so fascinating.

Anonymous Vernacular - The Pistol Packer
Anonymous Vernacular - The Pistol Packer

I’m using the term “Vernacular Photography” to describe this image. A good friend of mine gave me a definition for it (after a rather contentious debate from which I learned some humility): “Vernacular photography is photography by indigenous populations for indigenous consumption”. Meaning photographs that are created with the intent to be consumed by the audience that created them. The photographer does not have to be known or unknown; neither does the sitter. What matters is the intent. So a Mathew Brady portrait of a client off the street, commissioned by that client for their own personal use, even if the client were famous, would be vernacular, but Brady’s civil war documentary, even the camp scenes of soldiers at rest, would not. Diane Arbus’ photos are NOT vernacular, nor are Ansel Adams’. Their work was created for the express purpose of exposing an idea and sharing it with the world at large. Vernacular photography is created for a known, limited audience. Non-vernacular photography (art photography, documentary, etc) is created for an unknown, unlimited audience. The sitter for my tintype here probably had no expectation of the life of his image beyond whoever he gave it to being able to remember a moment in time at some now-unrecorded location. By collecting it, publishing it and categorizing it, though, do I now lift it out of that category of vernacular image by giving it that unknown, infinite audience?

There’s a wonderful book on the American Tintype by Steven Kasher called “America and the Tintype” which catalogs the better part of a century’s worth of mostly anonymous, vernacular photography from the tintype era. If you’re interested in the subject, I highly recommend picking up a copy.

Updates to the NY photographer’s map

I’ve found some more photographers to add to the map of New York. Again, you’ve got to love some of these self-descriptions of their businesses. Also interesting is the case of C.D. Fredericks, who ran studios in New York, Paris and Havana. Makes you wonder how he managed three studios in such far-flung cities at a time where steam-powered trans-atlantic crossings were just coming in to being, there was no telephone, and the airplane was still an opium-smoker’s dream.

I’ve reorganized the list in geographic order, with the assorted Lower Manhattan addresses first, then the ascent of Broadway, followed by the odds and outliers, including one in Brooklyn.

STUDIO NAME ADDRESS DATES OF OPERATION
R.A. Lewis 152 Chatham Street * unknown
R.A. Lord 164 Chatham Street * unknown
K.W. Beniczky #2 New Chambers Street, corner of Chatham * unknown
Vaughan’s Gallery 228 Bowery unknown
H. Merz E. Houston & Essex Streets unknown
Bailey’s Photograph Gallery 371 Canal Street unknown
O.O. Roorbach, Publisher of Dramatic Photographs 122 Nassau Street unknown
Mathew Brady 643 Bleeker Street (1859-1860)
Jaquith, Daguerrian Parlor 98 Broadway unknown
S.A. Holmes, Daguerreotype Studio 289 Broadway unknown
Josiah Thompson, Daguerreotypist 315 Broadway 1849-1853
J. Gurney & Sons, Daguerreotype Studio 349 Broadway unknown – early
Mathew Brady 359 Broadway (1853-1859)
Bogardus 363 Broadway 1860s
E. Anthony, Publisher, Brady’s National Portrait Gallery 501 Broadway unknown
W.C. Wemyss, Dealer in Photographs, Books, &c. 575 Broadway unknown
C.D. Fredericks & Co
587 Broadway, New York
31 Passage du Havre, Paris
108 Calle de la Habana, Havana
587 Broadway unknown
Anson’s Daguerreotype Gallery 589 Broadway unknown – 1850s
Chas. K. Bill 603 Broadway unknown
J. Gurney & Sons 707 Broadway unknown – mid
Mathew Brady 785 Broadway (1860-)
Glosser 827 Broadway unknown
Bogardus 872 Broadway late 1870s
T.J. Maujer, Passepartout & Carved Walnut frame manufacturer, Dealer in Photographs, Artist’s Materials, &c. 953 Broadway & 183 5th Avenue unknown
J. Gurney & Sons 5th Avenue & 16th Street unknown – late
Loud’s Celebrated Album Cards unknown unknown
Fernando Dessaur 145 8th Avenue unknown
Estabrook’s Ferrotypes 379 Fulton Street, Brooklyn unknown

* addresses no longer exist. New Chambers Street & Chatham Street are now approximately where New York City Civic Center and Police Headquarters are now located.