Drew Tanner Photography 'takes its darkroom on the road'
Drew Tanner, of Beaver Creek, might be considered relatively new to the tintype world of photography, he has been a fast learner and his work reflects his love for this old, yet newly revived, way of capturing images.
Tanner’s interest was sparked by a chance meeting in September 2007 when he he came across the work of Jennifer Foley and Phil Nesmith.
The couple came to Pocahontas County to do some “shooting” which included a photo of Lefty’s Barber Shop in Cass. That photo made it way to the pages of the Washington Post Magazine, and Tanner’s conversation with Foley headed him toward Dundee, New York, in the summer of 2011, to study under noted tin-type photographer John Coffer.
Coffer's “camp-out” allowed students to “shoot from sun-up to sundown,” Tanner said. “Other photography classes are in a controlled, studio setting, but John shoots in the field.”
Coffer spent a decade traveling by horse and wagon, and living out of the wagon as he perfected his skill and won his standing in the tintype world.
Tintype photography is a branch of the “wet-plate collodion” process, Tanner said.
Patented in 1851, it was popular and widely used until 1880, and even into the early part of the last century in some printing processes, Tanner said.
In the 1880s the Eastman Dry Plate Company –later known as Eastman Kodak – perfected the “dry plate” that negated the need to carry your darkroom with you.
Wet plate, tintype photos are processed on the spot, though certainly not as fast as digital photography.
“The process – start to finish- takes about 20 to 30 minutes,” Tanner said. And he has produced numerous tin-type photos at Huntersville Traditions Day, Beverly Heritage Days, Court and Market Day in Harrisonburg, Virginia, the Black Powder Shoot-out in Putnam County, as well as West Virginia Day at Cass. He also has plans to take his “darkroom” to Camp Nelson in Kentucky.
Tanner will again take a step back in history on October 13 and 14, when he will be a part of the “smaller sub-set” of the Battle of Droop Mountain Re-enactment.
During the Civil War, several photographers were employees of the government, Tanner said. But there were other guys who followed the troops around, providing tin-type photos for them to send home to their loved ones.
“They Photoshopped back then, as well,” Tanner said. Noted photographer Matthew Brady would move bodies around to make things look better or worse.
Even without “Photoshop” images can be deceiving.
“Wet plate is not sensitive to the same range of color as we see,” Tanner said. “Most photos make it appear that all women were dressed in black, possibly in mourning. Although the dresses looked black, the woman may have, in fact, been wearing yellow or red.”
Tanner’s interest in photography began when, as a youngster, he was a darkroom assistant for his brother, Clete. He has worked with film and digital, which found him sitting in front of a computer. Wet-plate allows him to do art and photography without being plugged into anything.
“At the end of the process, you have something to hold in your hand,” he said.
View a gallery of Drew Tanner at work with this process here.