Tintypes and Alumitypes

Tintype Abstraction 3

This image is from Tintype Abstractions, a new series of digital prints I have been working on during the fall.  The patterns are from chemical reactions  that are part of the wet plate collodion photographic process.

This abstract image on an aluminum plate is the result of chemical reactions using the 19th century wet plate collodion process.  I scanned portions of the plate surface to a high resolution, revealing intricate patters that suggest the topography of another world.


Image:  Bryan Hiott & Alexander Gardner

Image: Bryan Hiott & Alexander Gardner

Above:  My Dundee, NY landscape (August 2009) combined in Photoshop with an Alexander Gardner image of a dead Federal soldier at the McPherson farm in Gettysburg, PA (July 1863).  Whole plate image on aluminum.

Image manipulation has been with us from the beginning of  photography – whether staging photos or enhancing them in the darkroom or (as we do now) in Photoshop. Alexander Gardner himself staged a shot at Gettysburg, moving a dead Confederate soldier about 40 yards to make his famous Rebel Sharpshooter image in the Devil’s Den. He even arranged the rifle and cartridge box.  Moving a soldier he photographed through time and pixels to 2009 was something of the same staging.

In my Civil War Smash Up, I was following an instinct I’ve had with wet plate to weave in and out of historical period and create a sense of displacement. Combining an actual Gardner image from Gettysburg with one of my landscape tintypes was one step in that direction. I think we’ve become so accustomed to seeing carnage in Civil War images that the tragedy doesn’t register. Transposing a dead Federal soldier to a modern scene asks questions about the sacrifices of that war and what our culture has become.



Portrait of Debbie Rice.  Whole plate alumitype by Bryan Hiott.  I made this image last weekend during John Coffer’s Jamboree, an annual gathering of wet plate photographers from around the United States.  Actual size of the plate is 6.5 x 8.5 inches.  Exposure time was five seconds with an f8 Dallmeyer Rapid Rectilinear lens.

1/4 Plate Alumitype (3.25" x 4.25).

1/4 Plate Alumitype (3.25" x 4.25").


I made this 1/4 plate image of a metronome in motion @ adagio under 5500K compact fluorescent bulbs in a cardboard box.  Process used was wet plate collodion.  Lens:  f8 Dallmeyer Rapid Rectilinear (c. 1891).  Exposure time was 1 min. 45 sec.

1/4 Plate Tintype of Abraham Lincoln   

1/4 Plate Tintype of Abraham Lincoln


On November 9, 1863, President Lincoln visited Mathew Brady’s Washington, DC studio, where his assistant, Alexander Gardner, made this 1/4 plate (3.25″ x 4.25″) tintype portrait.  Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg address just over a week later. 

By 1863 tintypes had become the most popular and least expensive portrait option available through the wet plate collodion process.  The Lincoln tintype is housed in a hinged leather bound case and is shown under an ornate layer of stamped metal, which was typical of the period.  The interior left side of the case is lined with velvet for for protection.

Alumitype by Bryan Hiott (2007).  Pool filtration system, East Hampton, NY.

Alumitype by Bryan Hiott. Pool filtration system, East Hampton, NY.


An alumitype is a sheet of trophy aluminum used in the wet plate collodion process to make a positive image.  It is distinct from a true tintype (also called ferrotype) which is made from a sheet of enameled or japanned iron.  Coloring was done in Photoshop CS3 using the lasso tool to select specific areas and the hue/saturation tool to adjust color.  The original size of the alumitype was 3.5 in. x 4.5 in. (quarter plate).

For your viewing pleasure, I have presented an image of a pool filtration system in posh East Hampton, NY.  Why have I lavished such attention on such banal subject matter?  Good question.  This was shot during Eric Taubman’s workshop through the Center for Alternative Photography.  While the other participants were busy trying to recreate the look of a Mathew Brady or Julia Margaret Cameron portrait, I went off and photographed what William Eggleston might have if he were using the wet plate process.  I suppose I was just being contrary or, as Eggleston would say, “democratic” in my image selection.