Photograph as event

tintype_portrait

This weekend, I had my portrait taken by tintype photographer Giles Clement, an event hosted by Old North clothing store downtown. I really wasn’t sure if I was going to have it done when I arrived, I really wanted to just bask in the photo nerdiness, and support a pop-up darkroom with an historic process being practiced in my own town. At first I couldn’t figure out why I should get a photo of myself made. It’s not like I’m going to put a picture of myself on the wall in my home.

It’s really not a flattering photo at all. Aside from the fact that I look like I just murdered someone (“#stonecoldbridget” was my favorite response thus far), large format photography spares no detail of my aging complexion, and the angle just seems to emphasize where I’ve stowed away all that craft beer over the last few years. But here’s the thing — I love this image.

And I’m trying to figure out why. I’m trying to figure out if it’s the same reason that the Facebook likes are piling up — which I think has to do with the fact that it looks “old-tmey”. In talking to Giles about it, he said people ask him if he lives his life in other “antiquated” ways to match his tintype process, to which he said no. That was also an amusing statement to me…. it never occurred to me that someone would assume Giles would be pickling all his home-grown vegetables and making his own soap just because he makes tintypes. I guess that’s the photo dork in me talking.

So is it really the lack of highlights in this image that makes people think of the Old West and get tickled? Is it the subconscious detection of minute detail afforded by a 4×5 negative which digital photography can’t yet replicate?

Later that evening, I debated with a friend the importance of having this image made by someone else. As much as this has piqued my interest in learning tintype photography for myself, that is an apples and oranges sort of experience compared to having someone create this photo.  I think the reasons I decided to go with it are twofold.

One is the importance of the tintype object. It is a freaking photograph on a metal plate, a suspension of collodion and silver nitrate that presents grayscale values which people psychologically equate to me. How many of us are satisfied on a daily basis with seeing images on a computer screen? One woman waiting to be photographed said, “I know I will want to have this when I am old.” She’s talking about the object in addition to the image it holds. She’s not fantasizing about gazing upon Facebook or whatever will exist in 50 years.

The other factor of importance was the actual event of being photographed. Why did I put my name on a list and wait an hour and a half? Why was I fussing so much over my hair? How many times are we photographed on a daily basis now and don’t give a shit — I could have completely filled up my phone with selfies for the time it took anticipating this one shot. The truth is that I kind of liked being nervous to have this one image made. I don’t just get to delete it and try again. I have to do it right, and maybe that pressure is enticing in these times.

Giles even offered to let me do another one since I looked so damn angry. Which I debated momentarily. All throughout my life however, strangers have approached me on the street and asked me to “just smile.” I’m really quite happy on the inside I would say 95% of the time, I guess I tend to suffer from the condition of “Resting Sad Face”. So in that sense, I decided to stick with this photo, accepting that it best reflected my most common reality. And here I had given up on the belief that any form of photography could still convey truth. I’m pleased to be wrong.

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