Thursday, January 10, 2008
Tintypes from Iraq
This is the second set of photographs tied to the war in Iraq I have come across (via Susana Raab) that utilise some kind of alt-process - the first being Ellen Susan's wet plate collodion portraits of US soldiers.
I must say I'm in two minds about this approach. On the one hand, on many levels they do work. The remain on most levels a photographic image, with all that involves and implies, but by utilising the anachronistic process they take a step back in a sense and manage to pause the never ending stream of images that flow over us every day. We also stop and pause and look - and perhaps look a bit more closely.
But on the other hand, they can seem a bit of a gimmick. Without fail, Brady and the Civil War photographers are usually invoked somewhere along the line - in some way giving an anointing to the photographer and - if one were to take the most cynical view - in some ways also doing the same for the conflict; giving it a sort of nobility of purpose. They also evoke a sense of dislocation in time. The war - and those pictured - becomes less immediate. Echoes of 19th Century photographic surveys in colonial India or Arabia or Palestine are triggered. And then there are the pictures themselves. If one were to take most of them as say straight forward black and white photographs printed on good old Ilford paper, most really probably wouldn't catch our attention. So the process really becomes essential to the picture and that brings me back to the sense of a gimmick (and yet, the same could probably be said about the choice of straight black and white over colour for example).
And then the photograph here of the Chinook and the low sun does nothing if not invoke the film Apocalypse Now with all that movie said about a failing and futile colonial war and the men fighting it. So there are many conflicting, ambiguous and mixed messages and emotions that these pictures seem able to contain (which probably means that ultimately they are quite successful in what they are trying to do...)
So, as I say, I remain in two minds about them - while still allowing that they certainly did catch my eye and they did draw me in.
Interestingly, Nesmith didn't lug a around a Full Plate camera, with it's bellows and tripod and heavy film holders, but appears to have used some kind of hybrid process whereby he took digital photographs in Iraq - giving himself more freedom of movement and interaction - and then producing Tintypes/Ferrotypes or Ambrotypes from those. Overall it seems to give very good looking results (although noticeably missing is the often distinctive narrow depth of field and/or blur that often results from using the larger negative with older lenses).
Posted by tim atherton at 11:15 pm