Thursday, May 10, 2012

More Reenactors in Tintypes

In the summer of 2011, I presented in a post a collection of photographs of modern reenactors who had their images taken from actual period cameras, including tintypes, daguerreotypes, and ambrotypes. I called on my many reenactor friends to e-mail to me photographs of themselves taken in this manner. I was not interested in any photos that were taken with modern-day cameras and then made to look period through the magic of Paint Shop Pro or Photo-shop; I wanted the real deal. I told them that I hoped to put something together in which could be shared with others interested in this sort of thing.
I received quite a few responses - I was pleasantly surprised at how many were sent.
And, as far as I know, I don't think anyone else has put together such a unique collection of "period" photographs.

It is still a very popular posting (click HERE to view it) and I have had a couple of people asking me if I would like to include their tintypes as well.
Of course I would!
But because I also had quite a few that didn't make it to the first post, I thought I would just make a second one instead of adding to the original, only this time I've included a bit of historical information to go with it.

You see, we reenactors/living historians are an unusual bunch. Heck! a small headline in the May 2012 edition of National Geographic insinuates this: "The Curious World of Reenactors."
Unusual? Curious? I guess we are!
Even with all of the wonderful modern digital technology readily available, reenactors line up to get their image taken in the same way as our ancestors did 150 years ago. The line can be a rather long one.
But well worth it.
Reenactors and living historians line up to get their likeness taken from a tintype camera
So, here you are, the second collection of reenactors in tintypes:

You put on your finest clothing - your Sunday best - comb or fix your hair just so, maybe take with you something of importance - a book, a piece of jewelry, even a photograph of a deceased loved one - that is important enough that you would like it to have the same sort of photographic immortality as your own self.
Or maybe you want to show future generations just what your life was like and wear your everyday or work clothing, and maybe bring along a saw if you are a carpenter or a large hammer if you are a blacksmith.
Either way, a trip to the photography studio was a big affair in the 19th century. It was a special day.
It's the very same for reenactors in our modern world. When we in this curious hobby see someone with historic camera equipment, we wander over to ask him when will he be ready to begin to take photographs. And how much will it cost?
And we are prepared to wait in line for this very special token. After all, it isn't everyone that gets to have their photograph taken in this way.

One of the most often over-looked innovations of mid-19th century photography is the fact that a client, upon coming to a photographer's studio or place of business, had his purchase in hand within ten to fifteen minutes of the "taking." It was a cash-and-carry business...instant photography. The customer received his miniature portrait instantly with far more detail on the plate than the human hand could possibly replicate. The entire picture-taking experience - from entering the studio to exiting with a cased image or two - was between thirty and forty five minutes.
This held true for the daguerreotypes and ambrotypes, but once paper photography became the rage the customer had to wait until the next day to receive their prized picture due to the length of the negative-positive process. The customer, however, still had to pay for their image on the day of the "taking."

In the more expensive upper class photographer's studio were dressing rooms for the ladies with assistants to help them.
But as mass production techniques lowered the cost of photography, competition pricing from other photographers brought the prices down to a more reasonable rate. It was not uncommon to see advertisements for photographs for as low as twenty five cents in the smaller size. In fact, Rachel Cormany, in her diary from June 11, 1863, wrote: "I got my photographs. Got six for $1."

Photographs taken during the 19th century were at the same time considered records of the present and mementos for future generations. The greater majority of photographs were of family, intended to be kept and viewed in the home. Given their reasonable cost, it was not uncommon for photographs to be made of a person or family at regular intervals, usually within several years of each other, to show change and growth of family members.
The photographer's most immediate tasks lay in lighting and in posing his subjects. The mechanics of lighting involved moving the camera and posing chair around the room and adjusting the reflectors and over-head baffles in order to take best advantage of the day's light.

The Purdue Family
Beyond the typical head-and-shoulders portraits, photographers employed props to enliven the image or to suggest the sitter's character. Every studio had such basic props as end tables, books, and vases of flowers.
Photographers did pose sitters with, more or less, some skill; they showed them how to lean gracefully against chairs, cut-off pillars, trees, and fences.
Ah, yes. My wife and I pose for our first tintype. We had an ambrotype taken a year earlier but our clothing was all (and I do mean all) wrong.
In small towns, galleries were less formal and, as mentioned earlier, customers would many times bring along with them the tools of their trade or some other valued possession to be photographed for posterity. Many women chose to have their likeness taken while wearing their newest attire.
Also, these photographers in smaller towns many times would venture beyond their studios and travel to a job site or event, taking images of not only people but of the occasion as well.
The photographer used me as his test subject before taking tintypes of the military men marching at Historic Fort Wayne
 Group photographs were more complex. The photographer sought three things from a group photograph: to record each person at their best, to convey a sense of connection or sympathy between each subject, and to create a unified picture.

The following four photographs are from and of the Woodruff family (the military shot includes Mr. Vern Woodruff).

A fine family photo, wouldn't you say?
Children of the 1860's

Time waits for no one and continues to march on. Photography, however, captures a moment in time. And the advances made in such a short span from its inception (1830's) to the large business it became a decade later enables those of us in these future generations to study people, fashions, and even scenery like no one had been able to ever before.
The photography processed marched on as well; it went from the daguerreotype of the 1840's and '50's to the ambrotype from mainly the 1850's and into the '60's, to the very popular tintype of the late 1850's and into the 1860's and '70's. Of course, the paper images of the 1860's through the turn-of-the-20th century proved to be very popular indeed, especially with the stereo cards and CDV's.
Miss VanderArk reads to entertain all listeners. To a man in the military, nothing sounds better than the soothing voice of a lady.

I hope you enjoyed this latest installment of reenactors in tintypes - yes, except for the color photo of folks lined up, every picture in this post (and its preceding post) was taken from the 1990's through late 2011.
By the way, keep checking back; I just might add to this post as I accrue more over the coming season.

The written information about period photography was taken (with some subtle changes) from the following books:
Dressed for the Photographer by Joan Severa
My Likeness Taken by Joan Severa
The Origins of American Photography: From Daguerreotype to Dry-Plate



Robin's Egg Bleu said...

I think these are wonderful! What would be even more wonderful is if the people who shared them would describe the actual color of their clothing, as it changes so much with this type of photography.

I'm hoping to finally get a similar image taken of myself at the end of this month!

troutbirder said...

Most fascinating blog. I've read a lot of Civil War book but never attending a reenactment (at Wasioja Mn. last summer. A lot of fun and I hope to find another to attend this year... :)

Fr. JT said...

There are hundreds of these collections of modern tintypes taken of reenactors and living historians.

Fr. JT said...

There are hundreds of these collections around.