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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.