I am ridiculously happy to introduce Northwest Workshop’s first Creative Spotlight: Henrietta’s Eye. They create original wet plate collodion tintypes, that I have to say, put you in a time capsule. I call the lovely people behind this friends and an inspiration for artists everywhere. They’re also known as Stephen Robinson and Libby Bulloff. Without further ado, here’s a little insight on their world of tintypes.
Let’s start with something easy, what is a tintype?
A tintype is a photograph made directly on metal with a chemical process called wet plate collodion. They were popular during the 1860s and 1870s. The small, collectable metallic photos you see that were taken during the American Civil War are tintypes. You could almost say they were the Polaroids or Instagram of the era, as they were affordable and accessible. We use something very close to the original process using cameras that are more than 110 years old.
What has made you guys stick with this medium?
We love the handmade qualities of tintype photos. It's a little dangerous and very finicky, but we've been diligently working over the past two years to hone our craft and make high quality, heirloom artifacts. Everything is done completely by hand and there are so many things that can go wrong with the process. We both work on computers for our day jobs, and so it's been really rewarding, if not a necessity, for us to spend time together offline making art objects with our hands.
How do you come up with the projects and imagery you want to create?
We're inspired by a number of things, as disparate as old Munsters and Twilight Zone episodes, classic literature, natural history, and modern real-life tragedy. We keep a notebook of potential vignettes and narratives we'd like to shoot, and we often come up with great ideas after visits to antique malls, junk shops and out-of-the-way places.
Have you had any roadblocks where you almost gave up?
Many. Dealing with antique equipment that often breaks or needs refurbishing can be time-consuming and complex. We have to use quite a bit of light to create these images, so we can be restricted by location. These photos used to be shot with a lot of sun and we live in perpetually dreary Seattle. Also, we occasionally struggle with being credited properly for our work, and the idea of pre-film photography made on metal with chemicals can be difficult to explain.
If you could put five things in a box to fuel your creativity, what would they be? It can be anything.
A piece of Victorian taxidermy, a Remington 5 Streamline typewriter, proper British tea, two bacon sandwiches (counts as one item when stacked!), and Tom Waits.
You’re having the ultimate dinner party where the food and ambiance is exactly how you’d like. You also have the power to invite anyone that has ever lived. Describe what’s being served and why your guests get the invite?
We'd invite Julia Child to serve her famous Choulibiac (salmon in a pastry coffin), accompanied by a nice rosé, of course. This explains itself.
Do you have anything coming up where people can see your work?
We have a show at Seattle's oddities and collectables shop, The Belfry, opening the evening of November 6 (see postcard). We'll be unveiling several new pieces. The show will run through the first of December. The Belfry is a fantastically interesting place to visit in its own right--we're very excited to be showing our tintypes there.
How can people find you on the interwebs?
We keep a portfolio of our work at www.seattletintype.com, and we have original tintypes and archival prints for sale at https://www.etsy.com/shop/HenriettasEye. We can also be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/henriettaseye.