I love looking at the people and clothing trends in historic photos. Somehow I have built up quite a collection – family members know I’m interested and pass on all those ancestor photos, and my mom buys me interesting photos she sees when she’s out antique shopping.
Whether they are distant relatives of mine, or just random people whose pictures happened to end up with me, I feel a connection to each of them and a responsibility to pass on what I can. Books about historic photography always have something to teach me about dating these photos and gleaning information about the subjects.
The American Tintype (by Floyd Rinhart, Marion Rinhart, and Robert W. Wagner, 1999, The Ohio State University) is a quick and easy read about a photograph type that was accessible to many people in the 1800s.
I especially liked Chapter 3, Making the Tintype. It offers a fascinating look into photographic studios of the time, from the reception room to the “operating room” to the dark room. I knew that photographers sometimes used head rests to help their sitters stay still, but I never thought about them warehousing the assortments of backgrounds and props they used. And somehow I never realized that they had to use natural light, and therefore had to have skylights in their studios. Reading about the process of sitting for a photographic portrait helped me put myself into the place of “my” sitters better.
If you are not really into photography history, the rest of Part I might be a little dry. It talks about the process of developing the different types of plates, and marketing tintypes and albums. But the illustrations are great, and reading just the captions would give you the gist of the information.
Part II is a large assortment of tintypes from 1856 – 1900, grouped into photos of “Man’s World,” Woman’s World,” groups, and pastimes. Just a few minutes of flipping through this section is bound to teach you something about historic dress and customs.
And here are a couple of visuals. I don’t think they are tintypes, but they are similar. These are distant relatives of mine, in dresses that date to the 1880s. (I can tell because they are 2-piece dresses with ruffles or pleats on the bottom. I learned that from The American Tintype .) Look how similar the backgrounds and poses are! I think they would be so amazed to know that they would be seen by people 130 years into the future.