Wednesday, April 29, 2015

An Imaginary Past

For our 4th anniversary, I coerced my husband, Doc, into letting me book an appointment to get authentic tintype portraits made.  So we headed off to Gettysburg, PA, to find out what our old-timey alter egos would look like.

Gettysburg itself is kind of like walking onto the set of an old movie; the place is preoccupied with the past.  I'm really not into Civil War history at all, but it was interesting to look out across the countryside and wonder what it looked like 150 years ago.  The town is full of antique shops, and there were many storefronts that advertised "antique photographs."  But I made sure to book an appointment at the Victorian Photography Studio, where they do authentic tintypes and ambrotypes.

While the photographer at the shop dressed us and got us ready, she also told us so much about the history of photography.  We learned a ton of cool stuff from her.  For instance, tintypes became more popular than daguerreotypes partially because they didn't involve mercury, which people didn't yet know would either kill you, sicken you, or just make you go mad.  "Wet plate photography: perfect for photographers who want to stay sane!"  Also, with tintypes, you only have to hold still for 20 seconds instead of 20 minutes, and you can blink and breathe normally.  Definitely more comfortable for all involved.  (Still, it wasn't uncommon for families to drug their children with laudanum to get them to stay still and not ruin the picture!)

We wanted to do an authentic style portrait of a husband and wife, so she picked out a dress for me that was more demure but not matronly.  None of that off-the-shoulders-ballgown stuff for an old married lady like me!  I wore a hoop skirt, which instantly made me feel like I was in an old film.  It feels nearly impossible to move quickly in one of those, and the sway of the skirt creates a graceful walk.

Although he seemed wary of the experience at first, Doc perked up when he got a fancy pocket watch, a top hat, and a walking stick.  He put away his wedding ring, since during that era, only the wife would wear a ring, to show that she was a man's property.  (Have I mentioned how glad I am that I live in this century?)

While the photographer prepared the tin plate, I would sneak selfies and talk to Doc in a Southern accent.  He was not amused.

Once we were posed, the photographer put something called headstands behind us.  They're basically tripods with a clamp at the top, which is screwed up loosely against your neck so you won't move.  In many old photos, you can actually see the bottom of the headstand peeking out from behind people's feet.
She gave us marks to look at and then took off the lens cap.  And we waited... and waited... and waited... and I thought about how I couldn't mess this up and I got even more nervous... and we waited.  Finally, after the longest 20 seconds of my life, she put the cap back on and we were free to move.  The tin plate was then brought out so we could watch it develop in a cyanide solution.  I did a time-lapse of it developing.  It's still so amazing to see it appear out of nothing!
A video posted by Sabrina (@vibrantvintage) on

Soon the tintype was finished after an hour in an oven, and there we were, standing in another century.  The tintype itself, because of it's size and weight, seems more alive than a regular photograph.  It's heavy enough to make that time you spent in front of the lens tangible and real, as though you're really holding a moment in your hand.

vintage fashion, retro fashion, fifties fashion, retro, fashion bloggers, vintage, vintage fashion, fashion blogger, retro style, Civil War tintype, tintypes, ambrotypes, Sabrina and DaKari, Vibrant Vintage, Sabrina, girls with short hair

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