If It's Difficult It Must Be Worth Doing - Malysheff's TintypesSunday, October 03, 2010
I came from an old-fashioned society that dictated that anything worth doing was complicated and took time. To a point I did take some shortcuts but I learned to print colour negatives and slides and took my time in perfecting lighting techniques. I avoided posterization or anything that involved making negatives that were at least 8x10 inches in size (one of the requirements for posterization and the rather complicated platinum print process).
I have been fascinated by early photographic processes and in particular the Daguerreotype. This process is most complicated. And not only that as the photographer is forced to use mercury and may inadvertently breathe in mercury fumes which will subject the photographer to premature loss of hair and impotence!
In short I limited my photographic craft to learning how to print my b+w negatives on to photographic paper with a relatively high level of skill.
We now live in a world where the mantra, what’s worth doing takes time, has been reversed by, if it’s easy to do then it’s worth doing. This has subjected us to all black canvases that are art and in photography with an inundation of eminently forgettable images that lack style in spite of the digital special effects available to anybody.
It is in this milieu where someone like Kimberly Malysheff stands out for her determination to pursue photography far from the crowds of Flickr and Facebook through the use of the mid 19th century process called the tintype. This process is laborious, and worst of all it is highly unpredictable. And yes, Miss Malysheff has to see the world upside down on a dark ground glass screen. The ISO of her colodion emulsion, which is laid wet on a metal plate (not tin!) is 3 so she is obliged to take exposures that may exceed one second. This means that portraits may have the arresting look of milky eyes which is caused by the opening and closing of eyes during the long exposures. Her subjects might move and have ghostlike and streaky hands.
I went to her opening night show this last Friday at the Waterfront Theatre, 1412 Cartwright Street on Granville Island. The show is on until November 21. I strongly recommend my readers to see this show as they will marvel at what photography used to look like and how in many ways it changed and not all for the better. Be prepared to see pictures that are no bigger than 4x5 as that is precisely the size of the metal plates that Miss Malysheff fits into her camera. For bigger pictures she will have to invest in larger format view cameras in 8x10 or even 11x14. Until she does that, enjoy the intimacy of getting up close and stare at pictures that look old enough that you might suppose that some of her subjects died long ago.
As a teaser here I am including one of Miss Malysheff’s works and one of mine. The last picture I took (of a person who got tired of being on the wrong end of a camera) and it is the product of scanner and computer manipulation. So easy to do, and so far from noxius chemical fumes! Best of all the process is predictable. I think I need to go back and look at those tintypes. I have to again consider that if it is difficult, it must then be worth doing.