TINTYPE   This photo on the right made me a tintype photographer. It was taken in 1974 when I was traveling through Eastern Canada for a National Film Board assignment. I was a hungry young man with a lot of time on my hands when I walked into a pioneer village-type attraction and stumbled upon a small photo studio. I paid the photographer $15, sat down looking my intense best, and the photographer took my photograph—a tintype. I don’t know his name, and I can’t remember exactly the town where it happened, but that’s part of the traditional allure of tintype photography: an unknown citizen is photographed by an unknown photographer for a small fee—all for vanity. Also alluring is the finality of a tintype image, this one a fleeting moment of my youth. This is the one and only original; no negative to copy, no digital file to upload and share. As Susan Sontag said, “All photographs are memento mori.” About 15 years ago, I found this photograph in a shoebox and decided to start taking tintypes myself. It’s an arduous process: coating a sheet of blackened aluminum with collodion emulsion, dipping it into a silver nitrate solution to sensitize it, then taking the photograph while the sheet is still wet. The chemicals behave like a sour muse: temperamental and difficult, then there is the expense—far more than the $15 I paid for that first tintype. And yet, there is always that allure. The process brings me back to where I started as a photographer. There is wonder and magic in that darkroom as I watch an image come to life under red safelights.

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