Tintype photography is making a comeback. Considered the great equalizer of photography because it opened up the medium to everyone, this cheaper alternative to daguerreotype and albumen printing has become quite popular again.
At first, photography was a newfangled invention that allowed people to document their existence. Photographers would travel from town to town and take daguerreotypes of folks who saved their whole paycheck to get a single portrait taken. When tintype photography came on the scene in 1856, however, it changed everything. Not only were the metal plates more economical, but also the process was easier and more efficient. That is, a photographer could prepare, expose and develop a portrait in a matter of minutes.
Similar to how digital cameras resulted in another boost in photography, these tintypes were the most convenient cameras on the market. Photographers were able to capture action on the battlefields of the Civil War and the steady expansion of the Wild West.
Because people didn’t have to sit still for hours, their personalities came out — traits rarely seen in previous types of photography. Those sitting for a shoot would use props likes dolls, masks and even tools from their trade to capture a unique moment. Without a negative created in the process, tintypes are unique as there are no copies made unless a digital scan is made.
At the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, seasoned photographer Victoria Will took a series of tintype portraits featuring actors such as Bill Hader, Maggie Gyllenhaal and the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman for Esquire Magazine. Photographers specializing in this method of photography are popping up around the world. In New York City, the Penumbra Tintype Studio offers studio sessions and workshops on this medium. Kits are also available for DIYers who want to take a try at this kind of photography. Most recently, portraits of Southern Blues musicians were captured on tintypes by photographer Tim Duffy. Recent developments like these are both a tribute to tintypes as an art form as well as a nod to the accessibility that this type of photography brought forth.