‘They look like their ancestors’: Nanaimo photographer revives 19th century tintype process

'They look like their ancestors': Nanaimo photographer revives 19th century tintype process
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Tyler Simpson is excited to help people step back in time, one picture at a time.

The Nanaimo photographer captures photographs using the same methods they would have been using in the 1800s.

“It’s really special and you’re not taking pictures, you’re making them by hand, from scratch,” said Tyler Simpson, owner and photographer of Guncotton & Ether Tintype Photography.

The authentic tintype process dates back nearly 200 years. Collodion chemicals, made up of guncotton, alcohol and ether are poured over a tintype plate in a dark room, followed by a bath in silver nitrate before the plate is inserted in the camera, where a flash of light captures a reflection of the subject on the plate.

Simpson is bringing the method back to life in a historic building on Nanaimo’s Victoria Crescent. Just above the Vault CafĂ©, the photographer has recently opened a studio named Guncotton & Ether to bring the tintype style to people wanting to see themselves in portraits of old.

“A lot of people, when they see themselves in this process, they always think they look like their ancestors,” said Simpson.

Victoria model Michelle Baker said the experience that’s steeped in history is unlike any shoot she’s ever been a part of.

“I think it’s so incredibly fascinating watching the whole process. Even the fact that people were able to realize this and come up with this in the first place,” said Baker.

“His style is very niche and specific and so different from what other people are doing now,” she added.

According to Simpson, watching the portrait come alive on the plate, once the chemicals take effect, really feels like magic.

“It brings out some of the coolest people and we have such a bonding experience over it, because it’s not just click, click, click. You really pay attention to each other, feed off of each other,” said Simpson.

People are now travelling from as far away as Seattle to have their portraits taken by the Nanaimo photographer. As an old art gains new fans, who are seeking a timeless and humble photograph — and to mark their place in history.

Skye RyanSkye Ryan

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