On the Other Side of the Lens

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In May, tintype photography Keliy Staley-Anderson

In May, tintype photographer Keliy Staley-Anderson took photos of Arkansas Arts Center patrons.

As a working photographer, I often find myself amazed at what I can capture with an iPhone. The advancement of iPhone camera technology makes the ease of capturing a moment very simple for most of today’s society. But for me, the convenience of the 5.04-ounce savvy device will never take the place of the true artistic process and history of photography.

I was excited to see two outstanding photography exhibitions at the Arkansas Arts Center this year: Nathalia Edenmont: Force of Nature, January 19 – May 1, and Dorothea Lange’s America, February 26 – May 8. Adding to the education and photographic experience of these two exhibits, the Arkansas Arts Center Museum School invited Keliy Anderson-Staley to set up a tintype portrait photo booth May 5-8.

Like Keliy, my photographic work focuses on portraits. I often discourage the use of make-up artists, stylists or designers because my intent is to capture a person in their truest form. I’m inspired and captivated by the personality and style of others, thus encouraging me to reach out and ask to take someone’s photograph. My overall goal in photographing someone is to assist them in seeing the beauty I see in them. However, the art of portrait photography brings to light issues of self-confidence, personal approval, and self-love. My biggest struggle has always existed in breaking through walls and encouraging relaxation, comfort and ease during a portrait session.

Heather Canterbury, AAC visitor services supervisor and freelance photographer, posing for a tintype portrait

Tintype of Heather Canterbury, AAC Visitor Services supervisor and freelance photographer, by Keliy Anderson-Staley.

Upon hearing about the photo booth, I immediately reserved a time slot. As a photographer, I rarely find myself in front of a camera; therefore, I wanted to relish this experience and remain true to myself. On the day of my sitting, I happened to be wearing a dark blue blazer over a sleeveless, beige top. After thumbing through Keliy’s book, On a Wet Bough, I decided to take off my blazer, revealing an arm of tattoos. I sat in a chair placed in front of a beige backdrop and managed to sit still as Keliy focused the lens. As she prepared the plate, I attempted to keep my composure. She returned to the camera and asked me to sit still for 8 seconds while the plate was exposed to light. Although I felt slightly vulnerable under the bright set lights, there was a hint of empowerment, too. With my shoulders aligned, back straight and eyes piercing through the lens, I felt strong. Just as quickly as she had begun, Keliy capped the camera and told me the process was complete.

She immediately began developing the photograph. I didn’t have to wait long since collodion is an immediate process. As I stared at the metal plate, expecting to cringe, I breathed a sigh of relief as I recognized myself. Because of the asymmetry of my face, I often feel as if I’m looking at a stranger when I view myself in photographs, like listening to a recording of your voice. However, this experience was different because I recognized myself. The tintype was truer to how I see myself every day. This was me.

My portrait sitting with Keliy proved to be a personal learning experience. By being on the other side of the camera, I was able to gain a new perspective. My insecurities have been difficult to overcome when placed in front of a camera, but beauty, like most things, is all about perspective. And making the simple move to the front of the lens provided me a whole new focus.

A Brief History of Tintype…

The Harry Ransom Center, located at The University of Texas at Austin, houses the earliest known surviving photograph made in a camera. Joseph Nicéphore Niépce coined the term “heliography” to identify his process and approach to creating the first photograph in 1826/1827.

The wet-plate collodion process was invented in 1851 by Frederick Scott Archer. However, it was not until 1853 that Adolphe-Alexandre Martin described the tintype process, and then in 1856 it was patented by Hamilton Smith in the United States and by William Kloen in the United Kingdom. The process originated as melainotype, then ferrotype and ending with the name of tintype; however, no actual tin is used in the process.

Because tintypes were reproduced on metals and proved relatively cheap with quick results, the tintype process made it possible for the general public to have their portrait taken. The tintype is a positive image on a metal plate. The plate is coated in collodion, sensitized for three minutes in silver nitrate and then developed and fixed.

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