Photographer Tif Hunter explains the processes involved in making a tintype, how he became beguiled by their creamy, emulsified tones and why his studio in Bermondsey, with its high ceilings and honey coloured bricks, is the perfect place place to work.
Explain to those who don't know, what are tintypes?
First invented as a technique in the 1850’s, tintypes were particularly popular during the Civil War in late 19th century America. A tintype is a unique hand made photograph with warm monochromatic tones on a thin sheet of metal. Tintypes, or wetplates as they are also known, involve a cocktail of wet chemicals and must be prepared just before the image is shot and developed and fixed immediately after.
SS15 Men Shoot: Erika - Linen Cotton Jacket, Cashmere Pullover, Helena Rohner Glass Necklace. Erik - Linen Cotton Jacket, Cashmere Pullover
What for you, makes a finished tintype so special?
Each tintype is unique. Handmade, it always has a very beautiful patina of marks and smears and due to the wet chemistry involved, the image is grainless with exquisite smooth tones. The physical nature of the piece of metal and its direct relationship with both photographer and subject make each tintype a very personal object.
Tell us about your career as a photographer and how you came to work in tintypes?
As a 10 year old, I was introduced to the magic of a photographic darkroom and was totally fascinated. Years later, this has manifested in a 30 year career as a professional photographer, during which I have shot images for many advertising campaigns, editorial spreads and books. In the early years this was shot with film on large format cameras and more recently almost exclusively on high resolution digital cameras. About 5 years ago, while shooting a personal project on an old batch of black and white expired polaroid film, I became aware via the internet of some very beautiful, highly textural images which I learnt had been created using the wetplate collodion method. After a couple of weekend seminars in Manchester and New York, I was completely hooked. Along with building a big wooden camera, acquiring numerous vintage brass lenses and filling my darkroom with bottles of strange smelling liquids, I have attempted to master this beguiling technique ever since.
Describe your workspace…
The building I work in is as old as the tintype process. I found it in the late 1980’s, a near derelict Victorian saddlery in Bermondsey, South London. The mud floor has been replaced by polished concrete and the honey coloured bricks cleaned and repointed. The high ceilings and light open space has been a pleasure to work in for the past 25 years and the building is also my home. The local area which was pretty dodgy back in the 80’s is now thriving and vibrant. The proximity of London’s best food markets, local art galleries and restaurants make it a wonderful area to live and work.
Tif Hunter's studio in Bermondsey
How was it working with Toast on the SS15 Men shoot?
This was the dream job. To work with Toast on their SS15 Menswear campaign has been a complete pleasure. Jessica and Jamie’s confidence in allowing me such freedom to create these pictures was truly liberating. For nearly all the pictures I shot only one tintype. The whole team of models, stylists and assistants embraced the pace and magic of the process and I think we’ve created something really special.
Who would you most like to produce a tintype of?
With no retouching and no second chances, the tintype image is utterly honest. That means that a portrait subject needs to feel pretty comfortable with themselves to submit to being recorded this way. With that in mind I can think of no better subject from my pantheon of heroes than Neil Young. As a long time fan of his music and having been to many of his concerts, it would be a privilege to spend time together shooting his tintype.
View Tif Hunter's website here
View the full Men SS15 tintype lookbook here