A New Look at an Old Art
Looking for something new for her art form, she discovered something old.... Tintypes. She took a class in wet plate collodian with Ellen Susan who had studied with a master in the field John Coffer. She was hooked. She applied for a grant to artists for $900 to purchase chemicals and equipment and set out to make appreciation for something old new again.
During the 1860s when colloidal photography was the photography, all the chemicals involved weren’t completely understood. Matthew Brady, for instance, was blinded by the use of silver nitrate. Two other chemicals when combined create a deadly gas. Mercury wasn't yet understood as dangerous as well as ether. The photo process is tricky, and the photographers earned respect as chemists. Christine has learned that the secret in the process is practice. She knows from experience now when her developing time should be one second or eight. She knows from experience how to determine her lighting. “Lots of experience with lots of failures,” she explains.
When she works in the field, such as Civil War reenactments, the venue makes it even trickier. “If it’s too cold they won’t dry. If it’s too hot, ether evaporates.” She must have a portable dark room, completely light-proof, an oil lamp for heating, a hot water bottle to keep her supplies warm, hope for no wind. She doesn’t use a vintage camera, but a reproduction. “The true antiques,” she says, “should be in museums, carefully preserved, not being hauled around and used. We can use good reproductions of vintage cameras.”
Daguerreotypes are expensive, dangerous, and tricky. This earliest form of photography involves chemicals made on glass slides, which are fragile. Ambrotypes, which became popular during the Civil War, are less expensive, less tricky, and could be mailed easily to soldiers’ families. Tintypes, perhaps the least dangerous and more common are created on a piece of metal. The metal isn’t tin; it’s a sheet of iron.
Christine Eadie finds them all fascinating. Though she’s from Australia originally, she was always a Gone with the Wind fan, and loved history. This art form was a natural for a photographer who didn’t enjoy computer editing.
My own interest is because I often see these old photos at Civil War and Relic Shows while selling my books. They are fascinating and I’d love to write a story about every one of them. And because my new book due out soon, The Mysterious Life of Jim Limber, has one of these original photos for its cover; a photo taken in 1864.
Christine’s business, The Charleston Tintypist, can be found at http://www.chalrestontintypist.com. She can also be found on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/christine.eadie. Look her up!