Tintype photography is a relic of the past but one that still has advantages over film and today’s digital technology, according to enthusiast Mike Rhodes.
The Medina-based photographer set up shop at this past weekend’s military history fair at the Lorain County Fairgrounds. The year and century was often easy to forget as attendees decked out in Civil War period garb lined up for keepsakes.
“I’ve been a photographer for 33 years and took up tintypes, or wet plate collodion, five years ago,” Rhodes said. “I grew up on shooting film and moved into digital — primarily portraits and weddings. I’m a collector of 19th century images, so I put two and two together and began shooting 19th century-style.”
A chemical reaction inside a tintype camera converts silver halide crystals into microscopic particles of metallic silver. Nuances in a picture come according to the duration and extent crystals are exposed to light.
In 1853, French photographer Adolphe-Alexandre Martin was the first man to popularize the technique before it was patented in the United Stated in 1856 by Hamilton Smith.
Tintypes became very popular in the 1860s and 1870s and widespread use lasted well into the 20th century. It takes roughly 40 minutes to snap and develop a photograph.
You could easily find someone to make you a tintype up until the 1920s but it was considered a novelty after 1890, said Rhodes.
“When you have one taken, people are amazed at how sharp they are,” he said. “Like anything, we’ve made things quicker and easier today and mistaken that for making them better. This is still sharper than most of today’s digital cameras.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.