Tintype Portraits of ‘4X4’ Community Curators

Nancy Keefe Rhodes 08/28/10More articles
Light Work Artist-in-Residence Keliy Anderson-Staley made this wet-plate collodion tintype portrait of Dr. Kheli Willets, one of four community curators in SUArt's opening fall exhibition "4X4." Her tintypes of the curators are up in the Shaffer Building gallery.© Keliy Anderson-Staley, used with permission.

Photographer Keliy Anderson-Staley had a steady stream of business all month. As the August artist-in-residence at Light Work on the Syracuse University campus, she was afforded a living space, stipend and 24-hour access to Light Work’s Community Darkrooms facilities. As for chemicals, she brought her own, mixing them from 19th century recipes. Her current on-going portrait project is simply titled “Americans.”

Developed in France in 1853, the wet-plate collodion plate – or “tintype” – was the leading photographic process until the advent in the 1880s of the gelatin dry emulsion plate and Kodak’s invention of reloadable amateur cameras. The snapshots we take today capture a view that’s about 1/1000th of a second long, but the tintype image “unfolds” over a period of seconds or even minutes (Anderson-Staley used a 15-second interval of exposure for her Light Work portraits). She says this prolonged gaze creates a tension between the sitter and the camera. Those old photos in the attic look so stern from the effort of holding still. And Anderson-Staley says we can’t really hold a smile for more than four or five seconds – in tintypes “you look like you’re chewing.”

The Virginia-based photographer Sally Mann began mixing chemicals for wet-plate tintypes in the mid-1990s and she used a 100-year-old bellows view camera for her haunting landscapes, first in “Still Life” and then in the widely-known “Deep South” (2005). But the revival of wet-plate collodion photography started earlier, partly out of interest in older technologies and for some part of a return to older lifestyles.

One major figure is John Coffer, who set out in 1978 in a horse-drawn “photographic van” and over seven years traveled 11,000 miles in 36 states as an itinerant photographer. In 1982 he was mixing his own chemicals for tintypes. In 1985 he settled on a 50-acre farm in Dundee, about 90 miles south of Rochester. He began offering summer workshops that featured free camping. Coffer's tenth annual TinType Jamboree took place on the long weekend just before Anderson-Staley’s residency here started. Though she didn't attend this year, Anderson-Staley did go three eyars ago. Like Coffer, she uses reproduction equipment instead of originals – though after a plate’s done she makes a digital scan and might fix your double chin.

Before Anderson-Staley left Light Work, she made four portraits that will remain on view here for a while longer. They’ll be part of SUArt’s first fall exhibition in Shaffer Arts Building on the SU campus, opening September 2nd. “4X4” is part of the celebration of the University’s own art collection (also more accessible after some renovation of some areas now open to the public). SUArts invited four “community curators” to participate. Abstract painter and ex-Syracusan Jack White, now based in Texas, took hand-to-hand sport such as boxing and wrestling. Dr. Kheli Willets, director of the Community Folk Art Center, explores how different cultures represent virtues and vices in their art. Artist and former lacrosse coach Roy Simmons, Jr., chose Croatian sculptor Ivan Mestrovic. I chose public art from the Depression.

“4X4” has its opening reception on Thursday, September 9th from 5 – 7 p.m., and runs through October 24th.

SUArts Shaffer gallery is open Tues. – Sun. 11 to 4:30 (8:00 p.m. on Thursdays). Map at Free parking weekends and eves in Q4 lot on College Place, or take the Connective Corridor shuttle #543.

See more tintypes at Light Work Gallery/ Community Darkrooms hosts an Open House with tours, food and portfolio reviews on Sept. 16th at 316 Waverly Ave. in the Menschel Media Center.

This article also appears in the September 2, 2010 print edition of The Eagle weekly. Read this and other arts coverage from Eagle Newspapers at – click A&E. Nancy covers the arts. Reach Nancy at

TAGS: SUArts, Light Work Gallery, Keliy Anderson-Staley, Jack White, boxing images, Kheli Willets, Roy Simmons Jr., Ivan Mestrovic, Nancy Keefe Rhodes, public art, Great Depression, Syracuse University
EDITION: The Eagle

Rating: 3.1/5 (27 votes cast)

Comments powered by Disqus

Local Entertainment Archive


Talk to Us!
We want you to know that your opinion matters. Please complete our online form and give us your feedback today.