The Tintype Studio: Revisiting a Chapter of Photography History

If you loved our feature on how old school photography studios are standing out today, here’s our full interview with The Tintype Studio for additional reading.

If you’re surprised that film is still alive and kicking, you’d definitely be even more astonished to find out that even more antiquated photography processes — tintypes and ambrotypes — are still around. Best of all, you can book a sitting today with studios offering portrait sessions in these unique processes. We very recently got in touch with a bunch of these old school photography studios to find out how they are standing out from their modern counterparts. You’ve most likely read about that here. However, we also wanted to share with our readers our full interview with each of these studios to paint a clearer picture of their visions, how they work, and what it’s like running their unique spaces. For today, the spotlight is on The Tintype Studio, which offers a fun and retro take on portrait sessions in their creative space in downtown Toronto.

“Running a studio like this is labor-intensive. Nothing is automated. Time is of the essence. “

Phoblographer: Please introduce your amazing studio to us. When was it founded? Why did you decide to open a studio specializing in tintype/wet collodion photography?

The Tintype Studio: We conceptualized the idea in the summer of 2010 on a camping trip in Northern Ontario. The four original members, good friends since our days at OCADU, decided we wanted to work together on a project that would revisit a chapter in the history of photography. The plans soon morphed into The Tintype Studio, and our vision was a collective that revisits the craft. We enjoy sharing our work through exhibitions and workshops, and also offer a portrait service that enables the public a chance to take home a unique piece of history. Our group of four has since evolved to just the two of us, but it’s still going strong nearly a decade later.

“The beauty of the process itself is that it is so tested and true throughout history, and we’ve seen proof of the archivability of the images produced. “

Phoblographer: Can you tell us about the age group/demographics of your clientele? Why do you think they became particularly interested in tintype/wet collodion?

The Tintype Studio: The demographics are mixed for the most part — babies, grandparents, mid-30s professionals, families, it’s all over the map. That being said, many photography students have contacted us to learn about the process or have their portrait taken.

We also offer gift certificates, so that’s one way we have opportunity to work with people who may not otherwise know about the process. We are excited to be able to capture anyone’s image, regardless of their level of interest or knowledge of the process; it’s great to be able to add a unique and rare object to someone’s family album.

Phoblographer: What do you believe to be the most stand-out advantage/selling point of tintype/wet collodion studios today?

The Tintype Studio: The fact that they offer a unique, one-of-a-kind photograph that they can take home within 30 minutes.

“The demographics are mixed for the most part — babies, grandparents, mid-30s professionals, families, it’s all over the map.”

Some of the things that makes wet plate collodion so special — how it sees light, the process of capturing and developing the image, the uniqueness of the final object, and the archival quality of the tintype — are often not fully appreciated by our subjects until they actually come in to sit with us.  It is always a privilege for us to be able educate our clients and impart our knowledge and excitement for the process.

Phoblographer: What is it like putting together a tintype/wet collodion studio and running it? What are the challenges and how do you overcome them?

The Tintype Studio: Learning to work within the limitations of the process is something which has only come with the many years we have put into this. With something as complicated as wet plate collodion it is easy to fall back on the unpredictability of the process to justify irregularities within the image.

“Another common misconception is that we supply costumes, or that you have to dress up in some sort of period clothing in order to sit for a portrait.”

Running a studio like this is labor-intensive. Nothing is automated. Time is of the essence. Your subjects must keep as still as possible as there are no do-overs. Now that we are a collective of two, we must each wear many hats and that keeps us on our toes.

Phoblographer: Can you share with us the most unique tintype/wet collodion project you’ve done to date, and the story behind it?

The Tintype Studio: Since we began working with wet plate collodion we’ve always enjoyed taking it to places which are new and exciting. The idea to begin working with tintypes was born on a camping trip and some of the most invigorating experiences we’ve had with the process have been deep in the Canadian wilderness. The challenge of pushing the portability of the process is not easy, but very rewarding. Our most recent project involved us shooting tintypes on southern Ontario’s French River. We met up with a Canadian artist to document a portion of her journey as she retraced a historic fur trading canoe route from Ottawa to Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Phoblographer: What is the most common misconception about this type of traditional photography that you try to dispel with your clients?

The Tintype Studio: A major misconception is that the process is unattainable. While it is true that the process is complicated and requires special care and attention to detail, it is most definitely something which many can learn to do and then apply to their own interests. As with any new skill, a certain level of dedication and interest is needed but once the basics have been learned and the required equipment and chemicals have been sourced, it is arguably much easier to set up a simple and portable tintype studio than it is to create a darkroom for processing and printing film images.

Another common misconception is that we supply costumes, or that you have to dress up in some sort of period clothing in order to sit for a portrait.

Phoblographer: How do you think this specialized form of photography will fare or evolve, say, in the next 10 years?

The Tintype Studio: The beauty of the process itself is that it is so tested and true throughout history, and we’ve seen proof of the archivability of the images produced. The ‘recipe,’ in and of itself is simple and effective. What is so special about the wet plate collodion process is that the raw materials are basic and will always be readily available; someone who makes wet plate collodion images also makes their own ‘film and paper,’ so to speak.