Tag Archives: Tintype

From The Director: Alternative Photography at a glance

Installation shot of the exhibition

Installation shot of the exhibition

The idea for this exhibition came from wanting to show a different side of photography. More than an exhibition showing photos of places, people, and things (those are included, of course) but also a show about how these photographic images are physically made. By hand.

Having a background as a painter, graphic designer, and art educator before coming to Main Street Arts means that my connection to photography is not as a photographer. I use cameras regularly, have developed my own film, and have experienced the magic of the darkroom, both in high school and in college. I know the thrill of making a photograph by hand, if only on a small level. I was also an assistant to my father when he was a wedding photographer (I once dropped a roll of medium format film in the back of the church and instantly lost the images of the bride getting ready to get married—this is the horror of losing a photograph by hand). So, my connection to photography comes from a place of appreciation and of wonder. How do people capture such life and feeling in an image? Especially when you can’t review the shot you just took on a digital screen on the back of the camera.

John Coffer, shooting a plate on a cold December afternoon

John Coffer, shooting a plate on a cold December afternoon

This exhibition is an exploration of handmade photography. The various kinds of images featured fall under the “Alternative Process” heading (hence the very utilitarian title of this show!) and most harken back to a day before digital technology. The five artists featured in this exhibition represent various directions that can be taken when delving into an antique or vintage process.

“Cabbage and Gloves” photogravure and encaustic wax, by Pat Bacon

Even though this show is not meant to be a comprehensive overview of alternative process photography, each of the five artists brings something different to the exhibition. Some are staying as true to history as possible, like John Coffer with his “real-deal-ferrotype-tintypes”. At times, you could see one of John’s images and believe that you were looking at something that was made in the late 19th century. Others are going as far from history as possible, like Pat Bacon and her agricultural photogravure images. They were shot on her iPhone, printed using photopolymer plates, and buried in layers of encaustic wax.

"AND 2" by Romy Hosford (left) and "Seeing is Forgetting #3" by Jenn Libby

“AND 2″ by Romy Hosford (left) and “Seeing is Forgetting #3″ by Jenn Libby (right)

In an exhibition that is looking toward the historic with its feet planted in the contemporary, it is interesting to think about the work of both Jenn Libby and Romy Hosford. They both use memory and history as a vehicle to explore their own interests. In Romy’s salt prints and cyanotypes, she explores notions of metaphor, femininity, identity, and anxiety. While Jenn takes on the role of a documentarian, capturing bits of cultural ephemera and abstracting them through a wet plate collodion process. Asking us to reconsider the objects we are looking at in her work.

"On Looking Up, 3" by Ian Sherlock

“On Looking Up, 3″ by Ian Sherlock

Going back to the planning stages of this exhibition… I was visiting the annual Made in New York exhibition in April, 2016 at the Schweinfurth in Auburn and was struck by an abstract-leaning image of the sun and clouds, taken by a pinhole camera by Ian Sherlock. This image stuck with me for a while and was the inspiration for wanting to do a show on alternative processes. From there, it was figuring out how far down the rabbit hole I wanted to venture and it has truly been an educational experience for me.

Lastly, speaking of educational experiences, we have a tintype demo scheduled with John Coffer at the gallery on April 1st (no foolin’!). You can learn more, here. I hope that you can find the time to come and explore the work in this exhibition, it  runs through the end of March.

 

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Jenn Libby

Jenn’s artwork is on view in “Alternative Photographic Process”. Her work is available for purchase in our Online Shop:
store.mainstreetartsgallery.com


I’m an artist who has worked primarily with the wet-plate collodion photo process since 2005.  Invented in 1851, wet-plate collodion was used to make ambrotypes, tintypes, glass negatives, and lantern slides.  It was the predominant photo process for several decades and was used to document the American Civil War.  This challenging process requires a darkroom on hand because the photographic plate stays wet during the exposure and must be developed immediately.

Self-portrait in Hungerford Studio, 2016, ruby ambrotype

Self-portrait in Hungerford Studio, 2016, ruby ambrotype

I learned (and later taught) the wet-plate process at the Visual Studies Workshop when I was working on my MFA in visual studies.  I’m from the U.P. [Upper Peninsula of Michigan] originally but I’ve lived most of my life in Rochester, NY, a city rich with photographic history and resources.  My interest in creating photographic objects is what led to my interest in learning the versatile collodion process.

The Cluttered House, Collodion positive transparency, 2005

The Cluttered House, 2005, collodion positive transparencies in jars

My thesis exhibition, The Cluttered House, included collodion images on glass in jars of water.  I didn’t know how long they would survive but I still have a number of the jars with the images still intact 12 years later.  My more recent work, Record, is made up of many tintype photograms mounted and displayed in vintage film developing hangers. While less sculptural than my jars, there is still a more tactile quality than photographs on paper.

Installation view of Record, 2011, Tintypes in film developing hangers

Installation view of Record, 2011, Tintypes in film developing hangers

I started making photograms in the darkroom with the wet-plate process during the winter months because of lack of natural light for in-camera work, before I had started shooting with artificial lights.  I could use the light from my enlarger to create these camera-less images.  When I saw the results I was hooked. Unlike a cyanotype or gelatin silver photogram, the trace or shadow of the object appears black instead of white.  Shadowy figures and objects emerge from the ether, and developing imperfections create a background with texture and depth.

Cowboy, 2011, Tintype

Cowboy, 2011, tintype

Like many artists, I’m a collector.  My work explores memory and the impulse to (re)collect.  Almost all of my artwork (I also make artists’ books and small gauge films) starts with objects and images in my collection.  The Cluttered House installation grew out of three objects I took from an abandoned house many years ago—a cigar box, an old children’s book, and a young woman’s diary.  For Record, I started recording bones, toys, glass items and other natural and man-made objects—small fragments of the 20th century.

Kodak, 2011, tintype

Kodak, 2011, tintype

The photogram of a translucent blue vinyl 45rpm record (with the aptly named track, Holiday on Mars) was the image in Record that led to my next series, Seeing is Forgetting.  I began making square photogram tintypes using primarily round objects, many of which were glass.  The images in Record are generally identifiable objects.  With Seeing is Forgetting I am transitioning into the abstract and hoping the viewer will look at the image and not at the object that I recorded.

Record (Holiday on Mars), 2011, tintype

Record (Holiday on Mars), 2011, tintype

I liked these tiny celestial and cellular looking images and an old map cabinet was the perfect place to encase them.  It speaks of collections, particularly those used for study, education, and display. I am very much influenced by cabinets of curiosity, the precursors to our modern day museums and archives.  What drives people to collect?  What drives them to record their lives?

Seeing is Forgetting, 2014, tintypes in map cabinet

Seeing is Forgetting, 2014, tintypes in map cabinet

I was curious to see how these images would look enlarged.  I printed out a 16”x16” test print and liked it, but decided it needed to be bigger.  I ended up having six of the images printed as 30” x 30” ink jet prints and incorporating them into the series with the map cabinet.  I love the intimacy of the small objects, but I also find the large prints to be exciting in a different way.  By changing the scale I remove the image further from the object that made it.  Oddly, with these large prints, I found myself moving away from remembering and into being present.

#3, 2014, inkjet print

#3, 2014, inkjet print

Here are a few images to illustrate my wet-plate shooting process.

In this first image I am pouring collodion onto a thoroughly cleaned and polished piece of black glass.

Pouring the plate

Next, I take the plate into the darkroom and put it in a bath of silver nitrate.  It will stay here for 3-4 minutes as the plate becomes sensitized.

Sensitizing the plate

Sensitizing the plate

I take the sensitized plate, now in a light-tight plate holder, to my 8×10 camera to make the photograph.

Inserting plate holder

Inserting plate holder

After making my exposure I take the plate back into the darkroom to develop it.

Developing the plate

Developing the plate

After developing and rinsing I can take the plate into the light to fix it.  After fixing, the plate will be thoroughly rinsed, dried, and varnished.

Fixing the plate

Fixing the plate

As for my physical studio space, I’ve been in transition since last summer.  After spending a few years working out of the Hungerford building, I decided to convert my garage into a new studio.  It’s a beautiful space with a large darkroom, lots of natural light, and access to the outdoors.  I forgot to mention that the collodion process is sensitive to ultraviolet light and it is a slow process akin to a film speed of ISO 1, which means it requires a lot of UV light.  Shooting outdoors is often the ideal option.  I’m really looking forward to spring and starting new work in my new space!


Stop by Main Street Arts to see Jenn’s artwork in “Alternative Photographic Process” (runs February 25–March 31, 2017). Visit her website at www.jennlibby.com for more information on Jenn’s wet-plate portrait studio and workshops. Follow Jenn on Instagram @geneseelibby and like her Facebook page at Genesee Libby Studio.

Take a look at our previous Inside the Artist’s Studio blog post by photographer Ian Sherlock.