Victoria Will is an award-winning photographer who has garnered wide acclaim for her work in the world of portraiture, advertising and entertainment. Will’s photographs have appeared in magazines and publications worldwide from The New York Times to Vogue, Sports Illustrated to W Magazine. A graduate from Princeton University, Will hails from Washington, D.C., but now resides in New York with her two French Bulldogs and photojournalist husband.
Will’s tintypes at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, made while on assignment for AP’s entertainment partner company Invision, were a sensation, and below, Will recounts her evolving interest and experience using this photographic process.
Several years ago, I had my tintype made at the Penumbra Foundation booth during a photo festival in Brooklyn. The experience was one I wouldn’t forget. While I held my position in front of the camera, the photographer disappeared for a minute to get the wet plate ready. I remember holding still for a roughly 8 second long exposure and then again waiting for the photographer to return with the tintype in her hand. When she did emerge out of the darkroom, what she handed me seemed like a gift. I was determined to find out answers to my questions and fully explore the wet plate process that I had just been a part of.
"Despite my experience with the technique, I still consider myself a portrait photographer that uses wet plate as a medium, not a tintype photographer."
The 2014 Sundance Film Festival was my first try at the tintype process. Like-minded creatives - actors, writers and directors, attend the festival; all of whom I hoped would appreciate the alternative process.
There are several differences when shooting tintypes at a festival that you would not encounter if you were just shooting digitally. Beyond the interest in the alternative chemistry, most of the talent and celebrities recognize that they only have the opportunity to make one tintype.
In a celebrity driven week like Sundance, time is scarce, and what you run up against is the fact that tintypes can’t be rushed. The entire process must be completed while the plate is wet. In rough terms, a plate is made by first coating a piece of aluminum in collodion and submerging it in silver nitrate. After the plate sits in the silver bath for at least 3 minutes, the plate must be exposed and developed before it dries.
"That’s what I love so much about tintypes; they are the opposite of a digital capture because they are not only finicky by nature, but also my every move must be deliberate."
I was so often pleasantly surprised by the patience of the subjects who were willing to participate, many of whom were interested in venturing into the darkroom to see the process to completion. Rather than just ushering the celebrity on to the set, shooting 50 frames and sending a handful to the wire while they go on their way, the time constraint allows us to sit and discuss the process. I find that the subject almost always take an active interest in talking through the pose and mood of what we are making. The time we have in the studio becomes a true collaboration instead of a time of just documentation. We are making something together.
That’s what I love so much about tintypes; they are the opposite of a digital capture because they are not only finicky by nature, but also my every move must be deliberate. In fact, I think now that I’ve been shooting with a large format camera in this way, it has actually influenced my other work. I think all of my portraiture is more calculated, and hopefully, more thoughtful.
A tintype is a photograph, typically made in a photographic studio using a 4 x 5 camera and created by making a direct positive on a thin sheet of iron, coated with dark lacquer or enamel. The enamel or lacquer is used as a support for the photographic emulation. Tintypes were most popular in the 1860s and 1870s.
Victoria’s Technical Info
Camera 1: 1940s 4x5 Graflex Super D Single Lens Reflex fitted with a 203mm f 3.8 Hermagis Petzval lens from the 1860s (made in France)
Camera 2: Sinar p2 (modern 4x5) fitted with a Wollensak Raptar 210 f4.5 lens
Lighting: 9600 watt seconds on 4 Profoto 8a packs with 2 bi tubes, ISO 1
See more of Victoria Will's Tintype Portraits from the 2014 and 2015 Sundance Film Festival
Text by Victoria Will
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