by Jamila Pomeroy
VANCOUVER – Walking into the studio of Ian Azariah, you can faintly smell the chemicals he uses to process his tintype photos – Azariah is undoubtedly a creative alchemist. What is a tintype, you ask? A tintype, also known as a wet plate collodion, is a one-of-a-kind photograph made by creating a direct positive on a thin black sheet of metal, using real silver. Azariah shoots with either a 1950s Japanese Toyo (with an 1860s lens) or a 1980s Cambo, both with custom, handmade tintype holders. Any photography nerds out there will know this is wicked cool.
Tintypes were the second form of photography ever, and were most popular from 1856 to 1867. For such a vintage style, they yield extremely detailed photos full of emotion and depth. The photographs only read UV light, picking up different tones than our present-day processing, which responds to a broad spectrum of light. Although he went to school for photography, Azariah is entirely self-taught in tintype, using trial by error, books, and the internet.
On top of pioneering the resurgence of the old craft, Azariah has made the entire process portable with a darkroom attached to a tricycle. The original idea was sparked from a friend who had built a DJ trike for mobile parties. With an extremely quick processing time of about two minutes, it was only rational for him to be mobile if he didn’t want to be limited to studio portraits. The darkroom itself is handmade, fashioned from cabinetry and UV glass with a red gel composite that only lets in safe light. While Azariah is one of a very small handful of tintype photographers in Canada, he is the only one with a mobile tintype trike.
With his portrait photography, Azariah is able to capture the sincere, genuine attributes of a person; stepping far from previous trends of airbrushed, “perfect” beauty standards, he highlights natural beauty. Azariah describes the process as a strong collaboration between himself and the subject. It demands stillness, patience, and accuracy. With such physical permanence, having just one chance to achieve the shot, and a 15-minute process per shot, he has noticed a collective seriousness that just isn’t present in modern photography.
“What you see is what you get,” he says. “People often love to see themselves in tintypes, because for a lot of people, it’s a true representation of themselves.”
You can find Ian Azariah at East Side Flea, by booking a private studio session, or on Instagram at @tintypetrikeartists, Ian Azariah, photography, tintype