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Will DunniwayI have been a contemporary 19th century tintypist since 1990. Making these tintypes you have to use a process called wet plate collodion. With this wet plate collodion process you have to expose your image and develop it before the exposed plate dries. This is why it is called 'wet plate' because it which requires close proximity to a darkroom.
Plains Indian Tintype Plates
In 2005, I was asked if I wanted to work on a book project making some authentic tintypes of Indians. The topic was different costumes that the Plains Indian tribes would have worn during the 19th century. This was a perfect marriage for me, my passion for history and the photographic process I have endured for a couple decades now.
I traveled to three locations to take these tintype images. The first location was on the same ground that the Indian part of the film Hidalgo (2004) was made. This location was next to the Cheyenne River south of Hot Springs, South Dakota. The heat there was almost unbearable with temperatures rising above 105° by 11am. The images suffered somewhat in this heat, but the tintypes images stirred the imagination - it was as if these images were from another time.
The second location was on the Crow Agency adjacent to the National Battlefield at Little Bighorn National Park. The land where we made these images was next to the Little Bighorn River. This was the actual location of the southern end of the Indian encampment that Custer had attacked. Sacred ground.
The third and final location was in a region known as 'Union Pass'. This was near De Bois, Wyoming. The high mountain meadow we camped in was located east of the Tetons. At 9,000 feet elevation, I was worried that the ultra-violet light might effect my plates, especially the exposures. This was not this case…
In the end, I made over 40 tintype plates. My equipment was always original. I used a New York made, 1871 EA Anthony wet plate camera with a 1871 English Dallmeyer 3D petzval designed portrait lens. The exception was the 'inside tipi' image in this portfolio. In this case, I used an 1862 Harrison Globe lens.
The lure of wet plate collodion is it’s ability to speak of histories long past. Collodion’s rich vocabulary is unique among historical and contemporary photographic voices. This simple hand poured liquid on glass or tin was a quiet visual witness to the Victorian Age, the rise of the Industrial Age, the heroism and carnage of the Civil War, and the taming and vanishing of the American West. In this spirit, I walked in my photographer forefathers foot steps and made these wet silver reflections of these Plains Indians, long since disappeared from the vast plains they once roamed.