I first encountered Lumiere Tintype last month, in that mysterious way when a fascinating bit of the Internet bubbles up to the surface, and it’s just perfect for you. Created by two Austin artists, Adrian and Loren, Lumiere is a traveling tintype photobooth that looks like a teeny tiny cabin on wheels. Inside is all this wonderful old wood flooring, enormous photography equipment, and even a darkroom.
Their work reminded me of this “ghost art” exhibit that AMOA hosted years ago, I believe in 2005. There was all this 19th century photography there, and back then, it was thought that taking someone’s picture was akin to scanning their soul. The images (many of them tintype) were so haunting, that it’s perhaps not so surprising the public came to that conclusion.
I was reminded of that exhibit viewing Loren and Adrian’s photos, and asked them if they wouldn’t mind swinging by ol’ Austin Eavesdropper for a chat.
Eavesdropper Interview | Lumiere Tintype
1. What is Lumiere Tintype?
Lumiere Tintype is primarily a mobile photobooth, in which we shoot and develop authentic tintype portraits of folks while they wait. We use old cameras and make all of our own photographic chemistry. We stick pretty closely to the recipes used by the photographers of the 1800′s, which makes the final image very unique. We also produce commissioned photography for business, weddings, and creative projects of all kinds.
2. How did you both get into it?
Adrian – I got into it as a creative way to spend my time. I had spent many years shooting film of all types, until digital photography swept it all aside. I suppose I didn’t realize how much I had missed being in the darkroom. I really got hooked when I realized that the tintype process is outside the realm of even film photography, since we are essentially making our own film. It was liberating to know that our creativity is not dependent on the big film manufacturers staying in business.
Loren – I do not have a photography background but started to help Adrian out in the darkroom, making and developing the plates. Between the two of us we can shoot much faster than Adrian could on his own. I absolutely love being part of the process of creating tintypes. I enjoy discussing and providing input about what we are photographing, whether it is how a portrait is framed or a creative project outdoors. With every tintype we create I learn something new about both the process and the history of photography. I have started to view and evaluate my everyday surroundings with a new perspective. I constantly find myself awkwardly staring at strangers considering how their facial features would look in a tintype. Although that may confuse the few who actually notice me, it’s an enjoyable new element in my life that I would happily trade a few awkward moments for.
3. Your pictures have a haunting quality to them (they remind me of this exhibit at AMOA a few years ago about ghosts, actually). Do you get that feedback a lot?
Yeah, it’s a strange thing to see yourself rendered in the same medium as all the grizzly, old westerners that we are used to seeing in tintypes. People often look surprised when they first see the image. However, given a few minutes, they start to connect with the image because it removes you from the modern world and all of its bright, digital perfection. It’s an honest photograph and it won’t look dated in ten years. All of our modern photographic technology tethers you to the era in which it was taken. You don’t get that with a modern tintype, it is essentially timeless.
4. Dumb question. Why do people’s blue eyes look almost translucent in your pictures?
Good question! Photo nerd time! The collodion reacts very strongly to the UV end of the spectrum – so blues and whites come out very light in tone.
The opposite occurs with reds and yellows, the collodion is insensitive to these colors and will render them very dark. That’s how we find freckles that you didn’t know you had. Modern photography is extremely good at rendering color accurately, and with a tintype you are seeing the limitations (and beauty) of the early emulsions.
5. I love (really love) your ode to tintype. How has our relationship to photography changed over the past few years?
I’m conflicted here, you might want to take a seat.
Photography has never been more accessible. Everyone has a camera, and that’s a good thing. Every two minutes the world takes more photographs than were taken during the entire 1800′s. That’s incredible, no lover of photography can admit otherwise. However, photography has also become very disposable. Images are rarely printed, shared, held, hung on walls or stuffed in wallets. We have no idea whether or not the digital files of today will survive to be seen by our ancestors. We’ve had customers in the photobooth lament that the images of their kids as babies are stuck on weird disk formats at low resolutions. With a tintype, you get an image that has proven archival quality. The photographs from 150 years ago still look great today. They have been handed down the generations simply because they exist in the physical world, and they have a tangible value.
So, to answer the question, I feel that as photography becomes democratized and universal, yet only ‘exists’ in a digital realm, it’s important to take a step back and reflect on the future of those images. Analog processes allow us that reflection, be it film, tintype, daguerreotype etc. They allow us to hand make a body of work that is produced a little slower, but will last much longer.
6. Are you from Austin, or elsewhere?
Loren – I’m from Conroe, Texas.
Adrian – I was born in Birmingham, England
7. If elsewhere, what brought you here?
Loren – I moved to Austin for school, but stayed for the same reasons everyone does, food, music, culture etc.
Adrian – I came here on my travels, I stuck around after meeting Loren.
8. What is your favorite place in Austin?
Probably out on the Colorado river, east of the city. No one really goes out there. We are lucky to have access to it.
9. Describe Austin in three words.
Small. Creative. Evolving. △