Local Tintype Photographer Brings Blast from the Past

You can take home a vintage glamour shot that’ll outlive your awkward middle school yearbook photo by centuries thanks to local tintype photographer Tim Christensen. 

The middle photo is a tintype photo from the 1850s.

Tintype photos are basically Civil War-era images developed on metal plates. The style of photography was vastly popular in the 1850s through the 1870s. Tim began studying it three years ago after attending a tintype camp in Upstate New York.

The basement of his Southern Pines home acts as a “studio” that includes a massive 1850s-style camera, a DIY dark room for developing and lab tables for prep work.

So, How Does it Work?

Tim starts by prepping a sheet of aluminum with a collodion/nitrocellulose solution. The sheet then sits in the dark room for three minutes in silver nitrate. After the time’s up, it’s loaded into a film holder that, according to Tim, has a higher resolution than any digital camera.

Inside of the DIY dark room.

“Digital cameras convert light to electrons and it’s so far removed,” Tim says. “This image is actually made by the light captured at that moment with the subject, and that’ll last for hundreds of years.”

The film holder is inserted into the camera to take the actual photo. After the shot is captured, Tim removes the aluminum sheet, rinses it and pours another solution on it. Like magic, the image then comes to life.

A biology professor at East Carolina University and a photography MFA student, Tim also does a lot of nature photography using additional methods like cyanotype and Van Dyke. If you’ve been into Against the Grain Shoppe in Southern Pines lately, you’ve probably seen his insect photography work.

Want to Experience Tintype?

Tim is making his SpringFest debut on April 24. He’ll be popping up with his tintype equipment at Against the Grain Shoppe all day long, snapping pics and creating 5×7 heirloom images of up to three people. Sessions last about 20 minutes and cost $100. Book your slot here.

Tim isn’t taking appointments in his basement studio at the moment, but he says he hopes to open up the option to the public in the future. For more information about Tim’s work, check him out on Instagram.

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