We’re confident that some of you are shocked that the film industry is still alive and kicking, If you fall into this camp, you’d be even more astonished to find out that more ancient, 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.
Aside from specializing in tintypes, Lumiere is also unique since it’s also a mobile portrait studio. Fine art photographer Adrian Whipp established this traveling portrait studio after learning the craft, inspired by the traveling photographers of centuries past. He in turn inspires us with greater appreciation for traditional photographic processes like tintype and their unique handcrafted quality.
Phoblographer: Please introduce your amazing studio to us. When was it founded? Why did you decide to open a studio specializing in tintype photography?
Adrian Whipp: Lumiere was founded in 2013, largely in response to demand that had built up around my hobby of shooting tintype portraits. It seemed like a good time to open a tintype studio — digital photography was well established and had completely disrupted the industry. I felt that a gap had opened up in the market, and that people were looking for tangible, archival portraiture again. The resulting portraits are often very powerful, and it’s been a blessing to hear folks’ stories and to create a portrait that will help them mark their milestones.
Phoblographer: Can you tell us about the age group/demographics of your clientele? Why do you think they became particularly interested in tintype?
Whipp: It really runs the spectrum of age and demographic, and attracts all sorts of people (and creatures!). I keep my studio at Justine’s Brasserie here in Austin; it’s an eclectic little french restaurant tucked away on the east side of town. Our walk-in traffic is usually made up of couples on date night, anniversaries, families and a whole host of interesting late night characters. What surprised me early on were people’s surprising and often deeply moving reasons for wanting to be photographed. The resulting portraits are often very powerful, and it’s been a blessing to hear folks’ stories and to create a portrait that will help them mark their milestones.
“The resulting portraits are often very powerful, and it’s been a blessing to hear folks’ stories and to create a portrait that will help them mark their milestones.”
Phoblographer: What do you believe to be the most stand-out advantage/selling point of tintype studios today?
Whipp: I think the main attraction is the handcrafted nature of each image. Each photograph is completely unique, and the resolution can be quite astounding considering the age of the technology. People seem to get drawn into looking at a tintype photograph for far longer than they would an image on a screen. There’s a hyper-real, yet other-worldly nature to each image. I think people appreciate the process of being photographed with such an old technique — it’s slow and cumbersome, and requires a certain focus from the sitter that can make for some really intense portraiture.
“There’s a hyper-real, yet other-worldly nature to each image.”
Phoblographer: What is it like putting together a tintype studio and running it? What are the challenges and how do you overcome it?
Whipp: Honestly, it’s been over five years and I’m still learning. Tintype is a very unwieldy and demanding process to master, and can be very temperamental. The biggest challenge has been to learn all the ‘warning signs’ that the chemistry will throw up when things are about to go off the rails. Knowing how to fix a problem before it becomes a big issue is always a challenge. As with most things in life, paying close attention seems to be solution.
Phoblographer: Can you share with us the most unique tintype project you’ve done to date, and the story behind it?
Whipp: One of my early commercial clients, Ingersoll Watches, has just fallen in love with the medium, and the authenticity of the images. We’ve now shot multiple campaigns for Ingersoll using tintype. They love how the medium complements the watches and differentiates their brand in such a unique way. It’s been a great pleasure to work with a client that understands that the limitations and flaws within the medium can make for a truly unique image.
“It’s been a great pleasure to work with a client that understands that the limitations and flaws within the medium can make for a truly unique image.”
Phoblographer: What is the most common misconception about this type of traditional photography that you try to dispel with your clients?
Whipp: People often think it’s a ‘one-shot’ form of photography. I don’t go out of my way to dispel the myth, since it keeps the sitter focused, but I’m always happy to re-shoot if something isn’t quite right. My goal is to create an image that will be cherished for generations, just like the original tintypes that still survive today.
Phoblographer: How do you think this specialized form of photography will fare or evolve, say, in the next 10 years?
Whipp: My hope is always that more people learn the process and open their own studios. It’s a wonderful thing to handcraft a photograph from scratch, and to share the process with folks that may have never seen the alchemical magic of an image appearing in a tray of fix. As for the process itself, there isn’t a whole lot of innovation left. It worked 160 years ago, and is still performing today!