American Tintype: A Portrait of a Tintype Portrait Photographer

Documentary filmmaker and photography enthusiast Matt Morris recently noticed a magazine article about a tintype photographer named Harry Taylor based in his hometown of Wilmington, NC. Having recently gotten engaged, Morris and his fiancée decided to have Taylor shoot their engagement photos using the 150-year-old photo process. They ended up sitting for a 5-hour-portrait session, and Morris was stunned by the results.

A few months later, he decided to return to Taylors studio with two Canon 5Ds in tow and spent an afternoon documenting Harry’s work. The fantastic 4-minute documentary above is what resulted.

One of Morris’ favorite tintypes that resulted from the shoot

Here’s what Morris tells us about what attracted him to Taylor’s work:

I was smitten with the idea of getting tintypes made. I’ve got thousands upon thousands of RAW files and JPEGS, and just like most of your readers, almost none of them are printed. I’ve got files backed up, as well as published on various social media sites, so if something accidentally gets deleted, it’s no big deal.

A tintype is different. A tintype is a unique, physical, one-of-a-kind object. It doesn’t sit on your hard drive, and it’s not a negative that you can print as many copies as you want from. These are heirlooms, meant to be taken care of and passed down generations. Each one is filled with personal significance- we spent about 5 hours with Harry and wound up with 11 tintypes. If your head wanders a little too much during the 15 second exposure, you have to do it again. The process took about 20 minutes per photo. There are issues on Harry’s end as well- exposure times, chemical balances. Once you get it right, you’re thrilled. It really makes you appreciate how accessible photography is now, and also has made me take a little more time taking photos.

You can find more of Taylor’s work — both tintype and not — on his website here.

  • Vaughn Wascovich

    Just took my first tintype workshop with Frank Lopez in Dallas. It was magical.

  • lidocaineus

    The interesting part to me is that the photos still look like they’re from another era – that particular type of development process is so ingrained in our collective cultural experience as “the appearance of this type of photograph is from the past”, which brings up all sorts of discussion on what that means for a modern photographer. What would be really interesting is if he didn’t shoot such neutral era photos, and did something obviously of our time, like shooting someone at a laptop, or sitting in a car, etc., and how that would affect the way we perceived the photo.

  • Mansgame

    Freaking hipsters. I guess if someone is willing to pay extra to have their pictures look old and with less detail so they can brag about the process rather than the final product then more power to the photographer as he skips to the bank, but I would have more respect for a guy using a Rebel and having a beautifully lit picture with shadows in the most pleasing places and sharp where it needs to be. I don’t need gimmicks.

  • sierrarobba

    OOO my!!!! Antoher dramatic DSLR movie with samll DOF with piano music about a stupid who not learn RAW files and saiys: tinype have unique looks nad bla bla”

    I dont even start the video :D …yet

    OO and helvetcia fonts of course.

  • fahrertuer

    Have you ever wondered, why people drive oldtimers?
    They’re less comfortable, slower, need more maintenance, need more fuel, and in general more attention than a modern car.
    But those people still do it. Because they like to work on the car. They like the look. The feel.

  • lidocaineus

    You know art is about more than a final product. I would try and have a sane discussion about how process, thoughts, emotions, feelings, and tradition work to a serve an end result that means much more than just having pictures that “look old with less detail so they can brag about the process”, but since you basically wrote off anyone who’s interested in such things as “hipsters”, I doubt you’d get it.

  • brianhirschy

    Holy crap – I love this. I love the comment about the processing being all up in the head and very involved. That resonates with me strongly.

  • Richard

    Fantastic work, excellent video. Thanks for the post Michael.

  • MattMorris

    When I showed a friend of mine the tintypes, he said, “It’s disconcerting to me that I’ve only ever seen tintypes of people who died a hundred years ago, and yet here you are.”

  • ProtoWhalePig

    Why does detail and/or sharpness define the success or otherwise of a photograph?

  • DamianMonsivais


    No, hipsters, are the lame lomo people and holga shooters.

    Here we go again with “Mansgame”, Calling film shooters dinosaurs and people with alternative processes, hipsters.

    And these are not gimmicks.The tintype actually has more detail then your little rebel, and don’t get started sharpness if you’ve probably never seen a daguerreotype.

    You obviously don’t know anything about photography then what the last 5-10 years have offered when it got easier and required less thinking to do things.

    But that’s Photography for you. 0’s and 1’s.

    The world of photography is sadly filled with those Like “MANSGAME”
    knowing no history and in love with there new tech.

  • fahrertuer

    Because he’s a pixelpeeper I guess

  • DamianMonsivais

    Because he know no better then what the marketing campaigns for the new cameras tell him

  • Brian Sharpe

    200 years from now, do you think anyone is gonna remember what a JPEG was? A tintype, if properly cared for will last that long. Your great grandchildren will fight over it if you forget to include it in your will (and they may fight anyway). You don’t need gimmicks, you say? Fine. Don’t have a tintype made. Don’t bother having a hand-painted portrait made, either. Don’t waste your non-hipster money on hand-made pottery. Or a beautiful sculpture. Or an acoustic guitar. Or a baby grand piano. I mean, those dinosaur-aged things are so gimmicky. Have you ever heard Rachmaninoff on a baby grand?

  • Connie N

    I enjoyed the short documentary very much. Knowing Harry personally and having sat for one of his tintype photo sessions, I can attest to his sincerity and talent. We have had many photos taken over the years by many photographers, but Harry through tintype photography managed to penetrate our souls and capture an essence that other photographers and styles of photography rarely achieve.

  • Mansgame

    Yeah it’s hard to have a sane conversation with people who have an overly exaggerated idea of themself and what they do. Saying one is an artist is not the same as them really being an artist. Final results matter. If a $30 point and shoot camera can produce a better picture than what you spent a day doing, then art is not your strong-suit

  • Mansgame

    1’s and 0’s last for ever (true story, it’s science). These gimmicks wont.

  • Mansgame

    All things equal – composition, subject, etc. I’d take the picture that has the most detail vs. one that looks like it was dragged through the mud. I’m funny that way.

  • OmniMode

    Because for some, photography is a visual medium and the quality of the image is important.

  • fahrertuer

    Even digital 1s and 0s can degrade to the point of data loss. Hard disks wear out. SSDs degrade with every bit written and read. Optical storage solutions degrade…

    And what do you do, when a file type becomes obsolete and you can’t find any software to read it with? Ask NASA. They have a huge problem with well backed up data they can’t read anymore because there’s no OS that can cope with with 40 or 50 year old files. Hardware to read the old storage medias has to be rebuilt from scratch or taken from museums if it still exists…

    Compare that to photographs from almost 200 years ago that are still viewable and useable (well, 186 years to be exact, when using

    View from the Window at Le Gras as a starting point)

  • DamianMonsivais

    NO it can’t and you should eat your own words.

  • DamianMonsivais

    Read below :)

  • DamianMonsivais

    Now Mansgame, tell us o’s and 1’s do last forever.

    NASA Disagrees. And I like how the movie industry is shooting digitally but printing it back to film for storage purposes. But Mansgame knows better then NASA and the multi-million dollar Movie industry.

  • John Kantor

    All we need is a Not-so-Insta-Gram app.

  • Craig T

    I just scanned one of my 20″x24″ tintypes to keep on file when the plate sells. It was scanned at only 600PPI and yet still yields a 500+mb file…show me a modern camera that can create a file that large. Imagine the file when scanned at 4000DPI (no resampling). Collodion produces a grainless image, that’s why it was used for copy cameras until the 1930’s. You want a quality image…shoot an ambrotype or daguerreotype.

    Good on you Harry…keep your passion alive!

  • lidocaineus

    How is this even an argument? Taylor is doing this because for him process matters, and the result of the process and everything he puts into it ends up in the tintype image. A point-and-shoot camera isn’t even comparable to this situation, as they have *completely* different goals.

    This is like saying blowing on a horn at a sports event and playing Spanish guitar are the same thing. The idea that you could even compare the two is so ludicrous that I’m almost convinced you’re just a giant troll. If you’re not, I’d be absolutely shocked.

  • lidocaineus

    Except they’re not equal and saying they are doesn’t make it that way.

  • NA_Rules_33

    @b4ba94b0a2ca04224fbec3c744b7c532:disqus I don’t know if you remember me from the landscape exhibition thread last week, but I’m glad to see you fighting the good fight here. We’ll correct the clueless on the site one at a time if we have to.

  • Sid Ceaser

    My heart swells with joy every time I see another photographer practicing wetplate and other traditional (“alternative”) forms of photography.

    My wife and I are both photographers, and instead of spending money on more contemporary wedding photography, we hired a tin type photographer to take 20×24″ plates of us in our wedding attire. It was to celebrate history, and a magical process that we both cherish. Those huge images were the best photography investment I’ve ever made.

  • OtorongoNoir

    circular reasoning, Philistine. What makes you think detail and/or sharpness determine the quality of an image?

  • OmniMode

    Because, Monsieur Hipster Dilettante, I and many other Philistines, like it.

    I also enjoy doing photography that doesn’t require me to wear haz-mat gear…but I’m funny that way.