Tintype Portraits of '4X4' Community Curators

Light Work Artist-in-Residence Keliy Anderson-Staley made this wet-plate collodion tintype portrait of Dr. Kheli Willets, one of four community curators in SUArt's opening fall exhibition "4X4." Her tintypes of the curators are up in the Shaffer Building gallery.(c) Keliy Anderson-Staley, used with permission.

Photographer Keliy Anderson-Staley had a steady stream of business all month. As the August artist-in-residence at Light Work on the Syracuse University campus, she was afforded a living space, stipend and 24-hour access to Light Work's Community Darkrooms facilities. As for chemicals, she brought her own, mixing them from 19th century recipes. Her current on-going portrait project is simply titled "Americans."

Developed in France in 1853, the wet-plate collodion plate -- or "tintype" -- was the leading photographic process until the advent in the 1880s of the gelatin dry emulsion plate and Kodak's invention of reloadable amateur cameras. The snapshots we take today capture a view that's about 1/1000th of a second long, but the tintype image "unfolds" over a period of seconds or even minutes (Anderson-Staley used a 15-second interval of exposure for her Light Work portraits). She says this prolonged gaze creates a tension between the sitter and the camera. Those old photos in the attic look so stern from the effort of holding still. And Anderson-Staley says we can't really hold a smile for more than four or five seconds -- in tintypes "you look like you're chewing."

The Virginia-based photographer Sally Mann began mixing chemicals for wet-plate tintypes in the mid-1990s and she used a 100-year-old bellows view camera for her haunting landscapes, first in "Still Life" and then in the widely-known "Deep South" (2005). But the revival of wet-plate collodion photography started earlier, partly out of interest in older technologies and for some part of a return to older lifestyles.

One major figure is John Coffer, who set out in 1978 in a horse-drawn "photographic van" and over seven years traveled 11,000 miles in 36 states as an itinerant photographer. In 1982 he was mixing his own chemicals for tintypes. In 1985 he settled on a 50-acre farm in Dundee, about 90 miles south of Rochester. He began offering summer workshops that featured free camping. Coffer's tenth annual TinType Jamboree took place on the long weekend just before Anderson-Staley's residency here started. Though she didn't attend this year, Anderson-Staley did go three eyars ago. Like Coffer, she uses reproduction equipment instead of originals -- though after a plate's done she makes a digital scan and might fix your double chin.

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