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REO Town photographer Steven Glynn keeps tintype photography alive

Posted at 7:01 PM, Jan 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-26 22:09:37-05

REO TOWN, MI — A picture is worth a thousand words, and, with tintype photography, those pictures start with a piece of metal.

The style was created in the 1850s, and it was a way for people to have their portraits done.

Steven Glynn is a photographer with a studio in Lansing's REO Town neighborhood. He says the process of creating these photos is very hands-on.


"Essentially, you’re creating an image from scratch on a piece of metal, on a piece of aluminum," Glynn said.

This style helped capture many family photos and pictures of soldiers.

“All the Civil War photos and things like that would have been done in tintype," Glynn said. "It kept going for a long time. It was kind of a novelty, and then it was on a steep decline obviously.”

Photographers like Glynn are bringing tintype photography back into style.

He says he's done close to a thousand of them so far, and he's happy to help people create lifelong keepsakes.

“There’s kind of a resurgence of people that are learning how to do it and keeping it alive," Glynn said.

So, how exactly do you get a photo out of a piece of metal?

You start with an early style camera.


“It’s 8x10. No electronics… no batteries," Glynn said. "There’s no mechanical shutter or anything. It's basically just a box.”

And you focus by looking through the back viewfinder. The viewfinder is a glass with a matte finish, so the lens will project the image onto it upside down or backward.

"You move the lens, closer or farther away from the back, and that’s how you’ll acquire focus,” Glynn said.

Next, you have to go into the darkroom to make the film.

“What you do is you coat the aluminum in a viscous solution called collodion," Glynn says, "and that sticks to it pretty quickly as the ether and alcohol evaporate out.”

And, once you dip that into silver nitrate, you end up with film.

“And then from there, you go through the whole process of taking the photo, developing it, fixing it, and you get a resulting image that’s a piece of metal," Glynn said.

The process doesn't include dye or ink.


Glynn says it's really special when he gets to see people's faces light up when they see the end results, especially kids.

“They are going to school and they are learning chemistry and all that kind of stuff," Glynn said. "When they can see a tangible example of how powerful something like chemistry is. It’s just such a cool experience."

An experience he believes everyone should try out. Whether it is for date night, a family outing or something to do with friends.

Glynn also wants people to know it's not just a reenactment thing, that they don't have to dress up.

"Show who you are in the photo. It’s just a different medium," Glynn said. "No different than taking any other photo. But there is that cool process and that cool result."

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Tianna Jenkins

12:23 PM, Jan 12, 2021

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