Vintage Folk Art Tintype Portraits

Somewhere on the spectrum between folk art and photography is the unofficial category of oddly painted tintype photographs.  In the late1800s, photographers could make people's portraits using a camera and the tintype process in informal settings such as at carnivals and on boardwalks. A tintype is a positive photograph made on thin sheet of  metal coated with a dark lacquer or enamel. The cost of a tintype varied - the larger the sheet of metal the larger and more expensive the photo.

Tintypes were popular and affordable but painting was considered the more serious and valued form of portraiture. Sometimes therefore, the photographer (or an assistant) would make a large plate tin copy of the original photo and then paint on it, often embellishing by adding jewelry, eyeglasses and other details to make the photo appear more painterly and distinguished. The distortion from the small photos being enlarged combined with amateur painting and copying skills (hands were especially tricky!) resulted in some extraordinary, peculiar and haunted looking portraits!

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All photographs from Barbara Levine / PROJECT B.  Please do not reproduce without permission (thank you!).


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