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Photographer Makes Tintype Photos Using Rusty Cans

tintype photo

“Wet Plate Collodion is the photographic process of pouring Collodion onto a plate of thin iron or glass, then exposing and developing that plate while it’s still wet. This process was the primary photographic method from the early 1850s until the late 1880s. It replaced paper negatives/Calotypes (Talbot) and Daguerreotypes (Louis Daguerre). The current revival of the Wet Plate process is due in large part to the ubiquity of digital photography and because of the unique Collodion “signature” and aesthetic.”

This is how the wetplateday.org website describes this unique process. With old rusting tin cans as his canvas, David Emitt Adams created inimitable images on old discarded canned goods in the series called Conversations with History.

rusty can tintype

Adams found his stash of tin cans in the hot and arid Arizona desert grounds. He then created positive tintype pictures on the can bottoms. Not just any pictures, but images of those very same locations. The rusty old cans looked more like windows to the past, which wouldn’t seem farfetched as these tin cans date back to as much as 40 years ago. The images etched through the collodion process appear more like reflections of the desert surrounding.

can photo tintype

Adams shares with us his perspective on the desert, corroding cans, wet plate collodion and how he ties them all in.

“The deserts of the West also have special significance in the history of photography. I have explored this landscape with an awareness of the photographers who have come before me, and this awareness has led me to pay close attention to the traces left behind by others. “

rusty cans in desert

Years of light and time took its toll on the cans, transforming them into various shades of deep reddish brown tones. The tarnished cans add unique effects to its images, giving each piece a distinct look.

An obviously reverent Adams remarks,

I use these objects to speak of human involvement with this landscape and create images on their surfaces through a labor-intensive 19th century photographic process known as wet-plate collodion. The result is an object that has history as an artifact and an image that ties it to its location. These cans are the relics of the advancement of our culture, and become sculptural support to what they have witnessed.”

tintype photo print

rusty can with photo imprinted

See his remarkable tintype artwork collectively called Conversations with History over on his website.

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Patricia Ramos the author

I am a freelance photographer who is no stranger to smudged lenses, long hours in front of the computer, heavy camera bags (and the back aches that ensued) and missing lens caps. If you know what I'm talking about, you probably have as much love and passion for photography as I do.

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