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The Art of the Tintype: Edith Weiler

Sarah Orne Jewett House, Seasonal DoorThe Art of the Tintype: Edith Weiler ran September 15 through November 11, 2017 at Emporium Framing & Gallery in South Berwick, Maine. Edith Weiler currently resides in Deerfield, NH.

Edith Weiler states. " I’ve been studying the tintype process since 2010. Tintypes are one-of-kind images created on metal plates with the same chemicals and processing procedures as in the 19th century.  The tintype, one of three wet plate processes in the mid-19th century, was the primary photographic method used until the 1880’s, predating film, in 1885.  The tintype, best known for Civil War images, was also responsible for capturing portraits of President Lincoln; Lincoln was the first president to have a photographic image.  

It is interesting to think about a photograph as something more than just an image on paper, the chemicals of wetplate collodion so strong, they destroy paper, therefore only made on metal or glass, or another type of indestructible surface.  Tintype photography is a very crude, laborious, and hazardous type of handcrafted art.  It's a practice, it’s a discipline, it’s an art.  It gives back part of my love for traditional darkroom experiences.  One needs to be predisposed to fall in love with this process, with its messiness, with the hands-on nature of the process, with its implicit history. 

The element of chance is a key player, Hat Study 2rendering it very difficult to control.  Making art and images from silver and collodion provides a physical interaction with the photography that feels opposite of all modern day photography.  It is one part silver two parts magic.  Each plate has a protective finish of an organic 19th blend of gum sandarac (tree sap), lavender oil, and alcohol.  The layers of chemical material on the plate give a 3D effect, unlike any other photographic process.  Occasionally, I hand color the images with pastel dust before the varnishing process. The true romance is the presence of silver.  Tintypes give a dreamy, sometimes haunting look like no other.  There is no negative to reproduce the image again in the same way, every image is processed directly onto the plate.

I use a reproduction field camera, several different lenses, along with a special traveling darkroom.  I work open air with temperatures at least 50 degrees, and no higher than 85 degrees.  Temperature, humidity levels, wind, and cloud density all change exposure and developing times, so each image is total guess work.  That old world look is consistent in each piece, using the 19th century techniques.  The inherent flaws of all instruments and chemicals lend themselves perfectly to my view of, a beautifully imperfect world."Hat Box

Sarah Orne Jewett House, Seasonal Entry (top right), Edith Weiler, 19th c. Wet-plate Collodion Tintype

Hat Study 1 (upper middle right), Edith Weiler, 19th c. Wet-plate Collodion Tintype

Hat Box (lower middle), Edith Weiler, 19th c. Wet-plate Collodion Tintype