A Lesson in Tintypes from Cody Goddard
Cody Goddard came to Penn State prepared to study computer engineering. And he did, for a year—until he attended a photography workshop as a sophomore. In the workshop, Goddard ’10 not only discovered a love for photography, but became particulary interested in old wet-plate techniques, like tintypes, which create images on sheets of metal.
On Friday, Cody, who now works on campus for the College of Arts & Architecture in the e-Learning Institute, set up a makeshift studio in the Visual Arts Building, where he offered to make tintypes of anyone who showed up, preferably in Halloween costume. Our graphic designer, Jessie Knuth, and I stopped by Friday morning to check it out.
The tintype process is fascinating. Cody was nice enough to walk Jessie and me through the making of a tintype, and his explanations were so clear, even a photography neophyte like me could understand.
He begins in the darkroom with a plate of aluminum.
He then coats it with the collodion, a chemical solution, followed by a three-minute silver bath, which makes the sheet sensitive to light. He inserts the sheet into his camera, an authentic, 1911 large-format Eastman Kodak fitted with a modern lens, and hurries to get the shot before the plate dries. His subject must pose, completely motionless, for the camera’s 15-second exposure time. (We joked about how people in old-timey photos always look stern, and decided that holding a wide smile perfectly still for an extended period is, in fact, tricky.)
Next, in the darkroom, he rinses the exposed plate with a developer solution, which makes a negative image appear. This is followed by a water bath, then finally, the fixer. Seeing the positive image slowly take form was so cool.
Later, Cody will varnish the plate, using a homemade concoction of tree sap, lavender oil, alcohol, and water, held over a oil lamp—the heat helps the protective varnish spread evenly. The shiny finished product will last for more than 150 years.
Here, grad student Alicia Brogan modeled her ringmaster costume. From start to finish, without varnish, creating this photo took close to 20 minutes.
Time consuming? For sure. But that’s what Cody loves most. “With a digital camera, you’re click-clicking away, and you have hundreds of shots. With this, you devote so much time to one image. There’s more importance to that picture.”
His latest challenge: Learning to hand-color the tintypes with chalk pastels, giving faces the rosy glow you see in antique portraits “without making people look sunburnt,” he says, laughing. “There’s been a lot of trial and error there.”
Check out more of Cody’s work on his website, www.codexphoto.com.
Mary Murphy, associate editor