You’re flipping through bins of old photographs in an antique store. Occasionally one catches your eye. A particularly soulful expression, a piercing gaze. The smooth surface and rusty colors give off a ghost-like glow. You wonder who those people were? Where did they come from? It is possible that these are relics from some of the earliest types of photography.
“What do you think has become of the young and old men? And what do you think has become of the women and children?” Walt Whitman writes in Leaves of Grass. “They are alive and well somewhere […]”
Whitman was waxing poetic about the earth, the grass, and the human spirit. But he could have been talking about photography. The lives of men, women, and children during the mid-1800s and Civil War were among the first to be captured with the burgeoning photographic methods. Thanks to those photographs, we can see into the lives of Abraham Lincoln, freed slaves, and soldiers in both blue and grey, moments fixed in time.
The first photographs were experiments. The original photographers were scientists. Capturing images was a difficult and expensive chemical process. Having your photograph taken was a state occasion reserved for Presidents and the upper class. In 1844, Matthew Brady opened a daguerreotype studio in New York, photographing politicians such as Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams.
The tintype brought photography to the working class. Unlike daguerreotype, which uses expensive silver plates, tintype uses iron (not tin). Cheap to produce, they could be made anywhere and so by the 1850s, more people became photographers and commission family portraits. When men went off to fight in the Civil War, they carried small tintype photographs of their loved ones as keepsakes.
Though simpler, more mobile, and cheaper than daguerreotype, tintype photography still involved a lot of chemistry. I was never good at chemistry; in fact, my mother was proud when I got a D in my high school chemistry class. But my love of photography spurred me to participate in a 2013 workshop to learn wet plate collodion, the basis of the old-fashioned, chemical-heavy technique.
I knew it would be a challenge, but I didn’t expect the challenges to start with the front door. I stepped onto the porch of a tall Victorian house in Savannah, Georgia. It was Susan Ellen’s house, where she would be teaching the workshop. But I couldn’t enter; I was stymied by the doorbell. Instead of an electric button, I was met with an archaic, ornate knob. I stood there, confused, until behind me a tall woman with long dark hair approached the door.
“I love these old houses,” she said as she confidently twisted the bell, sounding off a ring.
That was how I met Christine Eadie, another participant in the workshop. Christine has been making pictures since she was a kid living in Sydney, Australia. After moving to the US in 2000, her fine-art career shifted into commercial digital photography, mostly doing weddings and portraits. After a few years, burnt out from sitting in front of her computer and spending the majority of her time editing, Christine began exploring other photographic techniques, which led her to the wet plate workshop in Savannah. Christine’s enthusiasm was contagious, and she soon mastered the technique.
“I initially fell in love with the aesthetics, the vintage look of the process because I’ve always loved looking at old photographs,” Christine told me recently over e-mail. “I became interested in learning the process after I built an at-home darkroom.”
Christine likens the process of tintype to that of making an antique Polaroid, but instead of using packaged film, Christine must make her own “film” by pouring a collodion mixture directly onto a piece of metal, that’s where the chemistry comes in. The collodion mixture contains ether, grain alcohol, bromide, and iodide salts. And pouring the mixture is not easy task. I remember eagerly volunteering to try it at the start of the workshop, my hand quivering slightly. A certain physical Zen seems to be required.
When the collodion plate dries, after approximately 15 minutes, the plate is dipped in a silver-nitrate solution.
“I lower it steadily and evenly to avoid ‘hesitation lines’ on the surface of the plate. At this point the plate is light sensitive, and is placed in a plate holder to get it safely from darkroom to camera without exposure. The plate holder has a dark slide, like a sliding door, that until you slide it out, will keep the film from being exposed.”
Christine’s camera does not have a shutter button. The photograph is made by removing the lens cap on the camera, thus beginning the exposure, which can take 3-5 seconds depending on chemistry freshness, light, and her subjects.
Once the exposure is made, Christine goes back into her “darkroom box,” a portable darkroom made from a vintage leather suitcase and several layers of cotton fabric. The fabric covers the box except for a little window of red Plexiglas, which serves as her safelight. Her darkroom sits next to her, allowing a smooth transition from exposure to development. Development involves pouring an iron sulfate-based developer over the entire surface in one sweeping movement. The developer also contains grain alcohol, water and glacial acetic acid.
“It smells like vinegar,” she notes.
Hot weather accelerates development time, so on warm days, Christine compensates by adding sugar to her developer. Following development, which takes 15 seconds, the plate is washed with water, and then can be safely exposed to daylight. The tintype image looks like a negative, and to make it a positive image, the image must be fixed by pouring a mixture of distilled water and potassium cyanide solution over it. “It really is the most exciting step… and it never gets old!” Christine has found that most people love to watch the transformation from negative to positive.
Christine applied for grants and was awarded financial assistance to purchase the equipment and supplies necessary for a tintype photography studio. It became her medium of artistic expression. But then she realized the commercial opportunities. She purchased an old view camera and brass lenses through eBay and began traveling to Civil War reenactments as a modern vendor.
“The business sort of happened initially to help cover my costs,” she explains. “This process isn’t cheap!”
As her business continued to develop, she began sharing space with another photographer. Later she bought a travel trailer and lighting equipment, making her studio more period correct.
The history of the Civil War is rich within the cobblestone streets and historical buildings of South Carolina, where Christine lives and works. She has found a strong connection between the history of the South and the process she uses, which was invented and popularized during the Civil War era.
“The fact that this process was popular during that time period naturally connects me to the era. I find history fascinating and started attending Civil War reenactments to make images for the attendees. I attend reenactments all over the eastern states, as far north as Pennsylvania and south to Florida. Surprisingly there aren’t many living history events or civil war reenactments in South Carolina compared to other states.”
Although reenactments are rich with history buffs dressed in historically accurate garb, Christine’s photographic setup can still make event visitors’ heads turn.
“They seem amazed that I am making photographs using vintage equipment and chemicals. They often suspect I have a digital camera hidden inside my wooden view camera. I have to show them that it’s nothing but an empty box.”
Most people are curious and ask many questions; after explaining the process, Christine tells them that “it’s magic.”
“I seem to be more knowledgeable about art, photography, and history than when I was shooting digital. The process really slows me down and I have to think about what I’m doing and get it right. Not only do I enjoy photography more now that I work in this process, but I also feel like I am creating images that will be cherished and hopefully passed down to future generations.”
The magic of light and chemistry is what keeps Christine going. “I enjoy having a tangible object as soon as I make a picture. Each image is one of a kind and unique. It’s very satisfying to make an image from start to finish.”
Christine also enjoys the challenge of tintype photography. “I never tire of seeing an image magically appear in the fixer. I feel validated when I make what I think is a great photograph. It’s a real thrill.”
We live in a time when fast shoot-and-share apps flood our daily lives with images. I asked Christine how she felt that her art and this medium might fit into apps such as Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram. “I think because of how easy it is to make a picture on a cellphone these days, a lot more serious photography enthusiasts have become interested in analog because it is something they are not used to and it intrigues them. I think this process stands apart.”
Despite the scenes at reenactments, we do live in the 21st century, and social media is a useful tool when Christine is looking for her next subject. “It has been a good way to gain exposure and supporters. Facebook helps me stay in touch with my clients and people I meet when I’m on the road. I don’t think I post enough selfies for the Instagram crowd.”
The tintype process takes time, experience, and real skill. When asked what advice she would give to artists wanting to work in this media, Christine answers, “Know your chemistry, and practice, practice, practice! The more you practice, the better your exposures, developing, and varnishing will be.”
Her final bit of advice, which could be applied to all forms of photography, is, “Learn to use natural light because it is superior.” She adds, “I think it is important to understand the difference and encourage people to stick with it and get over the learning curve.”
Although my short-lived collodion career ended after that workshop in Georgia, my admiration, both for the tintype process and for Christine’s work, has flourished.
For more information on the Charleston Tintypist Christine Eadie and to view her work, visit her website www.charlestontintypist.com and www.ChristineEadie.com.
Ariel Kessler is an analog photographer and mixed media artist out of Boston, Massachusetts. She is the founder of Defend the Darkroom, social media community created in 2011 to unify those who are passionate about analog art. Her work can be seen at www.arielkessler.com.
Report: Dramatic Drop in Sales Canon Cameras
Finding and Writing Grants for Working Artists
How can a photographer get a grant, and what kind of photographs do you have to take? This article will explain it and give you resources to finding and writing your first grant proposal.
The images for this page are from a young professional photographer who goes by the moniker, Shiva, for his art work. His images reflect some of the core issues in photography. Like most photographers, Shiva must decide whether to sell images or find funding for these images, photo excursions, materials and more. How does an artist-photographer create an income?
Believe it: a simple Google search can be incredibly helpful. Most grants come from non-profit organizations, so pay attention to the web address; while not a hard and fast rule, more likely than not, most foundations will have a “.org” website as opposed to a “.com.” If you are unsure about a site, do your due diligence before sending information or money.
Another excellent resource for searching grants is The Foundation Center, nonprofit which advances awareness of philanthropies around the globe. From their homepage, you can search any topic you can think of to source pre-vetted grant foundations without worrying about their legitimacy. Another such resource, Praxis Center for Aesthetic Studies of which I am a founder, offers an extensive resource page where you can find open calls, residencies, and of course, grants. The page is curated regularly and I highlight a few opportunities each week.
Of course, it’s no secret that you will not get every grant you apply for, so while quality is key when submitting a grant, quantity also plays a significant role. The actual writing of a grant is an acquired skill, and over time you will become more comfortable with the process. That said, if there is one thing that can make or break your application before you are even out of the gate, it is failing to read through your grant and follow the instructions to the letter. If your grant asks for a 500-word statement explaining how your work relates to the mission statement of the foundation, do not under any circumstances fail to deliver exactly this. Be sure you know the grant inside and out and do not fail to submit exactly what you are being asked for in a timely manner. The fastest way to be out of the running is to fail to follow instructions, and every grant is different.
That being said, not every grant will be right for you. Perhaps your work simply doesn’t relate to the mission statement of the foundation offering a grant you may have found. That is okay, and it is better for you to move on than to try fitting a square peg into a round hole.
As a working artist, finding and writing grants must be part of your regular practice. You must give it some level of priority, because this is a true part of any artist’s bread and butter. Once you get started, and once you begin to feel more comfortable with the process, you will be finding and writing grants on your own, and won’t even remember why that ever seemed so overwhelming in the first place.
Brainard Carey is an artist, educator, and author. He has written three books for artists on developing their professional careers. He hosts a radio series on Yale University radio where he interviews artists, curators, and writers. He also founded Praxis Center for Aesthetic Studies, which offers classes for artists to develop their careers, from finding a gallery to writing a grant.
Focus On Marketing
The days of meeting clients face to face are dwindling, now that social media has taken over as the number one marketing platform for growing a successful photography business. So, if social media is so hugely important, why do so many photographers continually get it wrong?
All too often, photographers don’t fully understand the concept of social media. But when you begin to explore the concept, it’s not that hard to get your head around. The clue for a start is in the name—social media.
Advertising has changed dramatically; we must no longer be set on trying to sell to our prospects, and this is where social media differs from printed press advertising. To sell on social media, you must first earn the trust of your followers. Engage with them using informative and useful content that they will like and interact with. That, quite simply, is the “social” part of social media. First build a following by earning viewers’ trust, and in return they will develop an admiration for your brand and become your loyal community of prospective customers. Once you have a loyal following, they will buy from you, review you, recommend you, and share your content with their own following of social media friends.
Now that you understand the first rule (don’t oversell) you are ready for the second: be sure to post content that is relevant to your social media audience every single day. I find it a lot easier to do this by scheduling my posts on Facebook every Monday for the full week ahead. To some photographers, that may sound like a lot of posting, but don’t worry; it doesn’t have to be strictly your original content. In fact, far from it. Try sharing other content from the Internet, but always add a few lines of your own comments above the shared article. For instance, if you are a wedding photographer, you could share someone else’s post of the latest trends in wedding table decorations or amazing ideas for themed wedding cakes, adding a few of your own suggestions.
Another great way to enhance engagement is to start a good debate on your page by asking a question. I once uploaded an image of two wedding cakes and beneath it wrote, “I’m a traditionalist myself; you can’t beat a good fruitcake at a wedding. What do you prefer, fruit or sponge?” It was surprising how much interaction this comment caused. The brides on my page were certainly passionate about their preferred style of wedding cake!
Don’t give in to the temptation to upload too many images in each post. For maximum engagement, try uploading two or three images from, say, the bridal preparation on the wedding morning, and tell a story about those images. People love stories on social media, and by tagging the bride and her bridesmaids in the photos, you’ve created an immediate audience. Tag the venue in the post along with a compliment, and again you’re creating a second generation of audience. The following day, you can upload a few more images from the same wedding, perhaps this time from the ceremony, telling another story about that part of the day. As before, tag the guests in the photos. Feed your audience with small, bite-sized chunks, and at the end of each post, you can say, “more to come tomorrow, so be sure to keep following.”
To really boost your page and website with search engines, try adding a few keywords to the bottom of your post along with your website address. For example, “fine art wedding photography New York, www.yourwebsite.com.” This way, every time your post is shared, Google recognises that as a piece of authority for your website. The more authority you receive, the higher the search engines will rank your website and social media pages.
Earlier we discussed posting relevant content on your page. Never forget who your audience is, and write for them and them alone. The second biggest mistake photographers make on social media is not posting their entire content to just one audience. Use the “Insights” tab at the top of your Facebook fan page to gain an insight as to the demographic of your current audience. To do this, select “Insights” and then navigate to the “People” tab on the left-hand side bar. Here you can find useful information about the age, gender, and locality of your audience. For example, on my own wedding photography page, I know that my audience is 92% female aged between 22-34 with the majority living in the Northeast of England.
Over the years, I’ve grown to know my audience; for instance, because of my pricing bracket I find a lot of my followers will react to posts about fine dining, country getaway breaks, or romantic holiday destinations. They are also interested in fashion and designer brands, and I can always guarantee likes and shares if I post content about pets or newborn portraiture. In contrast, commercial photography would likely be of no interest to my audience whatsoever, so why would I post it?
Should you wish to showcase your commercial or fine art photography, LinkedIn is the ideal forum to do so. If you don’t already have a LinkedIn profile, now is the time to create one. The more niche you can make your profile and the more targeted your audience, the greater the results you’ll achieve.
I personally work with hundreds of different clients from many industries around the world, helping them turn their marketing around and grow a large and profitable following of clients via social media. However, on LinkedIn I market my marketing and mentoring services to photographers alone. In fact, because I choose to ignore everyone else and niche my profile and content solely to marketing photography, the results have been nothing short of amazing. Each month I receive hundreds of messages from photographers who are keen to turn their business around and want to learn about my services.
To really work your magic on LinkedIn, you must be totally niche as mentioned previously. This could be great if, say, you are a wedding photographer, but you also offer commercial photography service. Keep your wedding photography on your Facebook page and build your LinkedIn profile around your commercial photography only. But you can go even deeper than that.
LinkedIn works much better when you can target a market directly. For example, if you’ve a passion for cars or a good portfolio of work based around motor dealerships, then consider photography for the motor trade and base your entire profile around this niche, and become the “go-to person” for this kind of photography. Post only content and images based around the motor industry; classic cars, motorsports, enthusiast rallies and such, and connect with as many people as you can in this market. This could be dealerships, manufacturers, race teams and sponsors. Just make sure you connect with the decision-makers, such as the MDs, managers, and business owners. You can also target enthusiasts, private collectors, and owner clubs and groups on LinkedIn as well.
To be a real success with social media, your first step is to consistently post interesting and informative content that your audience will love, always go niche and write for your audience alone and no one else. Once you’ve built up a following, analyse your audience to allow you to further refine the content you choose to share. Be sure to post daily, and only ever post one sales post for every seven to ten info posts. Build trust before trying to sell to your audience, and encourage your followers to leave five-star reviews every time they use your services.
Jeff Brown is a professional photographer and marketing consultant living in the UK. For more than 15 years, he has helped others by combining his knowledge and experience into an information-packed Skype Success Mentoring and Marketing Masterclass for photographers who are serious about turning their hobby into a success story. For more information and to learn how Jeff can help you develop a winning marketing strategy, email at email@example.com. And for more ideas, check his LinkedIn profile at www.linkedin.com/in/jeffbrownphotographymarketing.
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