A little over a month ago, I took a look though my closet and quickly realized I wasn't too prepared to face the rapidly approaching Colorado winter. I was on my way to my local second hand shop to track down a sweater or two when I wandered past a mint condition 1965 Shasta trailer parked on the road with the side door open. Sitting on one of the bench seats was an old field camera; something similar to what Ansel Adams would have used during his various trips across the American West during the 30’s and 40’s. Looking around for any clues as to why this rare and beautiful camera was being protected by nothing more than a sleeping dog, I notice two girls setting up a similar camera to the one in the trailer in an empty parking lot adjacent to where the trailer was parked. I introduced myself and struck up a conversation. They told me that the two of them were on a road trip across the West taking portraits of strangers using a process known as a “tintype” and Denver was their first stop. After around 45 minutes of chatting and getting my portrait taken, I knew I had to get in touch with them once they had finished up their trip. Last week, I sent out an e-mail to Atlanta based photographer and mastermind behind the “Tintype Photo Booth Tour”, Kendra Adams, to follow up with her as well as talk a little shop.
A: Can you give me a little background on yourself and your history as a photographer?
K: I was born & raised in Boise, Idaho. I attended New England School of Photography in Boston & have been living in Atlanta, Georgia for almost 6 years. I loved being able to express myself without doing a lot of talking. I was a painfully shy child and through photography I found in myself an incredible passion and undying sense of loyalty to the medium. It was in photography that I felt comfortable in being myself and as a window in which I could view the world, from places I'd never been to right in my hometown. Where maybe once before I was afraid to approach a situation now with a camera I felt like I could go anywhere! When I started working in the dark room & getting my hands dirty I knew I had found my place but it wasn't until I started shooting wet plates (almost 2 years ago) that I really truly found my photographic voice
A: At what point did you decide that photography is what you wanted to do as a profession?
K: I knew from age six I wanted to be a photographer. It it wasn't until my teenage years however that I set my goals on attending an art school for photography. I graduated [from high school] a year early & off to college I went to pursue my dream! I never wavered from that path and to this day I work really hard at being happy & slightly profitable at photography.
A: What was your first camera?
K: First camera was a Canon sure shot owl my dad got me for my 10th birthday followed by a Mamiya C330 which I absolutely loved!
A: You donate to a no kill shelter or wildlife preserve with weddings you book. When did you decide to start doing this and why?
K: I started making the donations during the second half of 2013. I absolutely love nature and animals so I've always donated extra money I had or spent time volunteering at local animal shelters. I felt like it was the right decision to add that into my wedding budgets and make a positive impact by helping the earth around me.
A: A lot of people will say that film photography is dead and impractical in the modern photographic landscape. As someone who predominantly uses film, I have a feeling that you have a different opinion on the subject.
K: There will always be naysayers going around touting that film is dead, but it certainly isn't within in my circle of friends. Just as records are coming back by popular demand, so is film. Thanks to places like Indie Film Lab, there exists inexpensive developing & scanning options to make it more accessible for analog lovers to keep shooting film.
A: You just finished off your cross country Tintype road trip, what were you doing and what inspired you to take it?
K: The tin type tour was a long time in the making. In 2009, I bought a '72 VW bus with the hopes of doing photography tours in it. About $2,000 later and still no working bus, I sold it to purchase a slightly more practical car, followed by the little travel trailer [the 1965 Shasta]. My dream for the traveling photography tours was to make art available for everyone, to include everyone in the creation of photography as well as the excitement of beautiful one of a kind art pieces. I modified this plan slightly to do pop up booths for tin type portraits; and while I didn't have shows in each city, I did meet a lot of great people and was able to get them excited about photography (along with plenty of talk about vintage trailers)! I think this tour set the stage for my next one (Spring 2014) where I hope to do little pop up photography shows as well.
A: A lot of people may be unfamiliar with the tin type process, could you explain it a bit?
K: I like to think of tin types as 19th century polaroids. The process is done by hand as well as in camera. You first coat a piece of black tin with a non light sensitive coating called collodion. You then stick that into a dark tank for three to five minutes so that the silver nitrate (light sensitive material) sticks to the collodion making your tin light sensitive. After that, you put the tin into a film holder, expose in camera then hand develop and fix. The overall process per plate from start to finish takes about ten minutes. Reading light & using your gut is extremely integral to this process.
A: What is it about film and “antiquated” processes that appeal to you?
K: The human element is so wonderful in wet plate. There's no batteries, light meters, or digital screens to distract you from the very "spiritual" process. That's sort of the magical wonder film and wet plates hold. I get butterflies every time I shoot film or develop a plate, which is something that you don't really get from digital. [With digital photography] the human element has been zeroed out.
A: What’s the story behind the 1965 Shasta Trailer?
K: I got the trailer as sort of an impulse bid on ebay. It was cute, vintage, and perfect for traveling in to do tintypes. Since I didn't have my bus anymore it was an ideal candidate to travel in. I wanted a conversation piece, something that would get people's attention and get them talking...an icebreaker if you will. Since I'm pretty shy, I thought at very least we could chat over vintage cars & old cameras (my safe zones). Before I knew it, I was the highest bidder and a week later I drove to New Mexico to pick it up.
A: Any memorable stories from the trip?
K: All the stories are memorable! I really did have such a wonderful time everywhere we went and getting to meet so many great people. My favorite one however is: I stayed one night at Pine Flats campground in Idaho, walked the dirt path down to the water, hopped over some rocks crossing a small part of the river to these beautiful naturally occurring hot springs. It was the most peaceful place I went on tour. I needed to feel connectivity again in such an unexpected way. From my warm pool, with a water fall behind me and the cold silent river ahead, I watched the sun set and felt at peace.
A: Are there any photographers (especially younger ones) that you are really into right now?
K: I spend most of my time looking at wedding blogs, it's embarrassing but true! Most of the wet plate photographers that I enjoy looking at are at my age (25) or much older, but I find great inspiration from their instagram feeds as well as other analog shooters using instagram as their sharing platform. A couple names that stand out right now are Giles Clement and Nick Brandreth.
A: What does the next 6 months have in store for you?
K: I’ve already got the itch to travel again and I've only been home a week! I'm planning on doing a month long spring tintype tour out to California and hopefully doing pop up art shows in a addition to the portrait booths. I'm already booking up for weddings which is great & looking forward to spending more time with my husband.
A: Any words of advice for aspiring photographers?
K: Never give up or give into the current demands of profitable photography. Do what you love and pour your entire being into it and eventually people will begin to take notice. In a world where "everyone can be a photographer", it's hard to find integrity & true artistic passion. If you can't get a gallery show, fuck it! Make your own in your living room or in an alley way or travel the country showing art out of your van.
You can check out more of Kendra's work online at:
on instagram: @wet_plates
or contact her directly at email@example.com