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  1. #1

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    Why do so many modern tintypes suck?

    No, I don't mean the pictures themselves are ugly. I'm referring to the technical condition.

    Consider this thing making its way around the interweb -- a series of tintypes shot of movie stars at this year's Sundance Film Festival:

    http://www.esquire.com/blogs/culture...s-2014#slide-1

    They're pretty, sure, or at least interesting, but what strikes me is how many of them -- if not all -- have serious blemishes -- smears, scratches, blots, uneven areas, and on and on.

    In my humble collection of photographic junque I've accumulated a lot of old tintypes -- the sort made in the 1860s and later. These were cranked out in small town studios by photographers using 1860s technology, equipment and darkrooms. Cripes, they didn't even have electricity. God only knows what unknown chemicals were in their water or how pure their chemistry was.

    And yet -- their tintypes are flawless, or at least a lot better than the ones I see in this collection. The areas around the edge may have a few issues, but I wonder how much of that is age and how much of it the photographer allowed, knowing the gold frame of the little pressed-paper box would hide it anyway.

    Typical sample: Click image for larger version. 

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    So, here's my question: Are folks making tintypes with these flaws intentionally, so they have a "look" of old tintypes that the viewing public apparently expects, even though real old tintypes look a lot better? I've seen even National Geographic running special photo series of tintypes of events that included many images with flaws that were pretty large.

    Or are they still just learning the process and have not, by dint of repetition, yet achieved the level of skill necessary to produce clean tintypes? I know making tintypes is not easy -- I've only tried it once -- but that's kind of the point. The more you do it, the better you get. Perhaps people doing these things need to work at it more?

    The reason this bothers me is that I work in a local museum and have an opportunity to look at a lot of old pictures. Those old photographers were real craftsmen, their work was first rate, even the guys working out of store fronts in podunk towns like Ogden, Utah.

    People doing "old process" photography who produce images full of these sort of flaws are making the general public think that that's what photography was like back then, and isn't it nice that photography now is so much better?

    But it's not. It's vastly different, but not better. Those old technicians knew their stuff. Their best images will survive the centuries with anything shot today.

    The real trick is to produce good images, both technically and visually. If you have to hope that "looking old" or being funky and fuzzy is what makes the image attractive, it's time to go back and work some more.

  2. #2
    MDR
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    Most of them haven't really mastered the medium yet. Some like Sally Mann do it deliberately. For some images the flaws work for some other they destroy the image. I like Sally Mann's use of the medium but she goes the whole nine yards and uses bad lenses as well. I also agree with in the heydays of the medium photographers knew after a lot of mishaps how to pour a plate. I collect tintypes and most of them are flawless

  3. #3
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    I think it's a mixed bag. There are a lot of wet platers that haven't perfected their their technique--and some never will. Many 19th c portrait studios were run like factories and it takes a fair amount of repetition to get consistently good results. Wet plate is also a reaction against the easy perfection of digital, so artifacts that reflect the process are welcomed by some. When I first started wet plate, I liked the imperfections a lot, but now I strive to make technically excellent plates. The best 19th c practitioners, particularly the field photographers, are a revelation.

    As a wet plater friend and I often remark--we'd have been fired on the first day at a 19th c portrait studio.

  4. #4

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    If you can create a tintype or, better yet, a glass plate negative without any imperfections, would it be that different from other processes such as dry plate silver emulsion negatives?
    Having seen the work of others who have produced large numbers of tintypes in a short period (see the work of Keliy Anderson-Staley, for example), these do have alot of imperfections.
    van Huyck Photo
    "Progress is only a direction, and it's often the wrong direction"

  5. #5
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    The photographer you are talking about, Victoria Will, comes from a background in photojournalism and seems to shoot a lot of commercial and fashion work for magazines. She's obviously not shooting tintypes day in and day out for any of that work. In my mind that would be the key difference with someone in the 19th century whose whole business was doing tintypes every day.

  6. #6
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    I have also wondered about the large gap in quality with tin types of the past and ones today. Its a odd such work would be shown and not scraped for a reshoot. I have always stressed the high quality of work that good photographers in the past were capable of with their technological limitations to try and change this current digital generation's view (in the classes that I teach) that analog correlates to lower quality/unexpected flaws/inconsistent results. I can understand if it was purposeful to create the flaws, but looking at that slideshow, there is such variance from shot to shot, some fairly well done, others with flaws so prevalent you can't look past. Then again maybe I shouldn't comment on such images until I have poured and shot some plates myself.

  7. #7
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    Hmm, flaws seem to say "handmade" and I'd say some might want to say that. Why do some alt process folks make sure their borders show their brush strokes? Bill "Showing them Strokes" Barber

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Newt_on_Swings View Post
    Its a odd such work would be shown and not scraped for a reshoot.
    We are discussing this on another thread but in a nutshell these are from Sundance film festival and I'd be almost certain they were one-and-done portraits snatched in 30 seconds each at a gala or party. In other words, a lot of pressure and a small amount of time to get a shot. It's not like the photographer can just phone up 50 stars and ask them to come back and sit down for an hour until she gets the shot she wants. And of course Phillip Seymour Hoffman will never sit for another portrait again, may he rest in peace.

    For what it's worth I think the whole series of portraits is fantastic. It's a very different way to see people who are photographed on a daily basis.

  9. #9

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    used car salesmen

    If the Sundance tintypes were "perfect" would you be advertising them, as you are in your post? I certainly wouldn't bother looking at yet already more celebrity photos no matter how "cool" Sundance seem to be to some people. And I made my living for many years taking celebrity photos -- Elvis, the Beatles, and so on.
    Used car dealers will stand on their heads on TV to get people to pay attention to them. I hope you don't think many photographers are different from used car salesmen. It's called doing business, getting noticed. If you can't dazzle them with footwork, then baffle them bullfeathers and slice the old baloney in a different manner.
    How many "lost" photos of Marilyn or the Beatles surface every month?
    Not to fail to mention that technically "perfect" can be pretty darn boring, especially in the hands of a hack.

  10. #10

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    I just looked at the photos and they are junk. They might just as well have taken the photos with an iPhone and processed them with the Hipstamatic Tintype SnapPak application.

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