Webb Gallery of Waxahachie will open a fall exhibition, “The Stink Eye,” featuring works by Martha Rich, Esther Pearl Watson and Heather Sundquist Hall, on Sunday, Sept. 22 from 1-4 p.m.
The gallery will also host Ellen Leathers-Wishart of Dallas and her mobile tintype processing studio on Sept. 21 and 22 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Visitors and those with reservations can have their photo made onsite and take home a one-of-a-kind tintype photograph.
The Daily Light caught up with Leathers-Wisheart about her style and the unique form of photography she employs.
Q. Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up? How did you end up in Dallas?
I was born on Bell Street in Dallas, actually right across the street from where my tintype studio is usually located now. I went to college at Maryland Institute, College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore, MD, then moved to Portland, OR, where I lived for 12 years.
I moved back to Texas to help with family and lived with my grandfather for the last six months of his life in Huntsville, Texas. While in Huntsville, I built a tiny house for myself as well as my mobile tintype studio from the ground up using many repurposed materials.
From there, I traveled a bit until returning to Dallas in 2018 to open my tintype business and to be close to friends and family.
Q. How did you get interested in photography? When did you know you wanted to pursue it as a career?
My dad gave me my first camera, a Pentax K100, when I was 12. I then received my bachelor’s degree in photography and worked as an aerial photographer (the kind in actual aircrafts, not drones) for many years. I have always loved photography but have a number of creative outlets and enjoy making all kinds of things.
Q. In addition to photography, you also have training in carpentry. How did that opportunity arise?
When I was living in Portland, I did some workshops with natural building with the intention of building my own home someday. Then, when I was in Huntsville, Texas, I worked with Dan Phillips at Phoenix Commotion, helping build low income housing for single moms and artists out of recycled materials. Dan Phillips was and is an incredible mentor for me. He taught me many things, including the confidence to build my own house — which I did in 2013.
Q. What is a tintype? Why do you find it appealing?
Tintypes, also known as ferrotypes or the wet plate collodion process, is a process invented in the 1850’s that uses various chemicals to produce a photograph on a piece of metal. Unlike film photography, there is no negative, so each image is completely unique and irreplaceable.
I really like the tangible and very physical aspect of this process. I literally make the photographs with my hands. Also, the results are stunning and unapologetic. There is limitless detail and an aliveness in each tintype that you just can’t get with other types of photography.
Q. You built a mobile tintype studio. What inspired you to take the show on the road?
I have commitment issues and like to be able to move around. Haha!
Q. Can you tell me about the process of creating a tintype?
I start with a regular piece of black aluminum that I coat with a gelatin-like substance called collodion. I then soak the plate in a silver nitrate solution that allows the chemicals in the collodion to absorb the silver (which make it light sensitive at that point).
Then I expose the plate by placing it in a plate/negative carrier that fits in my large format camera — the kind that sits on a tripod that I use a cape over my head like you might picture in the civil war era.
After I take the picture, I take the plate back to my darkroom where I develop it using different chemicals. At that point I have a negative, and then pour fixer on the plate which dissolves all of the unexposed silver.
What is then left is a direct positive image of silver on the black background. This all has to be done before the plate dries out, hence the name “wet plate collodion.” After the photograph is washed and dries, I apply varnish to make the image permanent.
Q. What is a day in your life like in the mobile studio?
I am usually open on Saturdays and Sundays in the parking lot of Death or Glory Tattoo shop off of lower Greenville in Dallas. I take appointments and drop-ins, with all kinds of interesting people stopping by throughout the day.
Occasionally I do private or pop-up events, for example this one at the Webb Gallery.
I love the diversity my work presents, each person with their own story. Tintypes are a one-of-a-kind object — many people want them to mark meaningful occasions or relationships in their lives. I really enjoy sharing in these stories and intimate moments with people.
Q. Who are your biggest influences?
Giles Clement and Adrian Whipp, who are modern tintype photographers and have been instrumental in helping me start my business. The greatest influences in my life are too many to mention.
I consider Michael Pollen, Dan Phillips, and Giana Piccardo Ripa to be just a few of my incredible teachers. My friends, family, and nature play a huge role in my life: It’s all about connecting for me, both with the natural world and with people.
Q. Is there anything else you want people to know about you or your work?
It is the people in my portraits that make the images beautiful to me. People are my greatest passion.