Photography students traveled back in time last weekend to produce images you will not see on your news feed.
Keliy Anderson-Stanley, a photographer versed in alternative processes, came to campus to give art students an intensive introduction to the wet plate collodion process, which dates back to the 1850s. Participants were members of Visiting Assistant Professor of Art Meggan Gould's course "Art and Time."
Gould met Anderson-Staley at a wet plate workshop in Portland a few years ago. Soon after, she invited her to conduct a workshop at Bowdoin which was so successful it led to the artist's return last weekend.
Anderson-Staley recently completed a residency in the "Light Work Artist in Residence Program" in Syracuse, NY, and in 2010 was awarded a Puffin Foundation Grant.
In the past year Anderson-Staley has exhibited across the United States, including at Texas Woman's University Art Gallery in Denton, Texas where she displayed "Off the Grid," a study of 30 families living in Maine without electricity, plumbing or phones. "Off the Grid" was also featured in Issue 5 of Ahorn Magazine, an online contemporary photography publication.
Because tintypes look "automatically historical," explained Anderson-Staley, she enjoys exploring "the tension between contemporary subject and historic medium."
The process of creating a tintype or ambrotype is a part of the practice of wet plate collodion because of the wet surface on which the photo is taken. The surface can be japanned steel or an aluminum metal plate (a tintype) or a clean sheet of glass (an ambrotype).
First, the artists covers the plate evenly with salted collodion. Then, under the illumination of red safe lights within a darkroom space, she immerses it in a silver nitrate bath, sensitizing it to light.
After being sensitized by submersion in silver nitrate for 3 to 5 minutes, the photographer has 5 to 10 minutes to take the picture, meaning that she must set up the camera and subject in advance.
After the picture is taken, the artist returns the plate to the darkroom and covers it in developer solution for 15 to 90 seconds depending on the type of plate used. The image first appears on the plate, depicting the subject as a bluish negative.
After washing the plate, the photographer uses a chemical "fixing" solution to transform the image from a negative to a positive. The photo is then coated in a protective varnish after being washed a final time.
"I've never done anything like this [much] before," said Katie DuBois '11, a senior participating in Anderson-Staley's workshop. DuBois explained how tintype is experiencing a revival in interest, all the while gesturing at the antique at the center of attention—a camera from 1903.
Josh Gutierrez '13 worked with tintypes to create both a still life and a self-portrait.
"It's a difficult process to get used to at first but I think it's really rewarding, it's a lot more difficult than a digital photo," said Gutierrez. "I think there's a deeper connection than if you were just going to snap a digital photo and post it to Facebook."
Anderson-Staley explained the resurgence in the use of wet plate collodion, saying she thinks it is a response to the digitization of photography and artists wanting to "get back to the dark room and make images that can't be made digitally."
Still, she hesitated to say that an artist's relationship to tintype photos is inherently more intimate than other mediums.
"There's definitely frustration and time that goes into it" but a relationship with a photograph "depends on the artist and not necessarily the medium," she said.
Anderson-Staley added that although viewers are often more intrigued by tintypes, "if a project is important [to an artist] it is important," and the most important concern about medium is that it is "the right medium for that project."
Anderson-Staley was impressed by the "enthusiasm, willingness to experiment, [and] creativity" of Bowdoin students.
Gould expressed her gratitude for the grant that made the workshop possible.
"This is not a technique that most people get exposed to, it's [a] pretty obscure, unique experience," said Gould, who hopes to organize a show of tintypes and amrotypes from the weekend.