The Daguerreotype process was the first publicly available photographic process, and for more than two decades it was the one most commonly used. Invented by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre and introduced worldwide in 1839.
The Ambrotype is a positive photograph on glass made by a variant of the wet plate collodion process. Like a print on paper, it is viewed by reflected light. Like the daguerreotype, which it replaced, and like the prints produced by Polaroid cameras, each is a unique original that could only be duplicated by using a camera to copy it. The ambrotype was introduced in the 1850s. During the 1860s it was passed over by the new Tintype.
A tintype is a photograph made by creating a direct positive on a thin sheet of metal coated with a dark enamel and used as the support for the photographic emulsion. Tintypes were mostly used from the 1860s – 1880s.
At first, tintype portraits were at made in a formal photographic studio, like daguerreotypes, but later they were commonly made by photographers working in booths at fairs and carnivals, as well as by sidewalk photographers. Because the lacquered iron support (there is no actual tin used) was resilient and did not need drying, a tintype could be developed and fixed and handed to the customer only a few minutes after the picture had been taken.
The tintype photograph saw more uses and captured a wider variety of settings and subjects than any other photographic type. The tintype saw the Amercian Civil War come and go, documenting the individual soldier and horrific battle scenes. It captured scenes from the Wild West, because it was easy to produce by photographers working out of covered wagons.
It began losing artistic and commercial favor to higher quality albumen prints on paper in the mid-1860s, yet survived another 40 years, mostly as a carnival novelty.
Tintype images have a penetrating, haunting quality and are, of course, one-of-a-kinds. Perhaps that’s why they are seeing a bit of a resurgence among art photographers. Tintype classes and studios are popping up around Portland, and probably in your city as well. Here are some examples from my collection:
And my favorite: