When Sid Ceasar and Sara Prindiville were engaged, they knew they didn’t want ordinary mementos of their New Hampshire nuptials. As a photographer himself, Sid wanted to take the creative route (check out a proposal video he made for Sara using look-alike Muppets); as an artist familiar with the 19th-century albumen photo-processing techniques who frequently uses her 4 x 5 wooden pinhole camera, Sara was on board for something a little different, too. After doing a little digging, they found Yige Wang, a wet-plate photographer.
Wang uses an 1860’s 20 x 24 camera to make the Ceasars’ wet-plate portraits, which requires zero motion for the longer exposure—a closer look at the photo above will reveal the wooden rods used to prop up Sid’s posture and the edge of a crutch peaking behind Sara’s left shoulder to make standing still for 8- to 10- seconds a bit more doable. Wet-plate photography is known as one of the most inconvenient forms of photo processing; Wang needs a portable darkroom so that he can coat the plate with silver nitrate, place it in the camera holder, expose the plate, and develop the image before the silver nitrate can dry.
San Francisco-based photographer Michael Schindler and wedding photographer Heather Curiel, based in Austin, Texas, have professed to catching the tintype bug. Though similar to wet plates, tintypes are ordinarily exposed on an iron plate rather than glass (which, back in the day, made this process much more affordable). Curiel offers tintype portraits in addition to her digital photography wedding portrait services, while Schindler has a storefront studio where he welcomes anyone walking by to stop in for a tintype. Unless he makes a mistake, Schindler takes only one portrait of each person to take home with them about 15 minutes after it’s taken (Schindler shows and tells more about his tintype photography process in a Cool Hunting video). Both wet plates and tintypes are direct-positive images, meaning there aren’t any negatives, nor any copies of the same photograph.
An online search for tintype and wet-plate photography a decade ago would have turned up pages of Civil War-era photographs; today, more and more photographers are beginning to pick up their glass plates, silver nitrate solutions and collodion photographic emulsion to revisit the handmade processes of the past.
If you missed the April 2013 issue, check out Rangefinder‘s article about the invigoration of older photography processes in wedding photography.