Mississippi Monday : Michael Foster
If you're a frequent follower of our blog, you may have seen our post and interview a few weeks back with super talented photographer Michael Foster. But, for those that missed it or those following along with our recurring Mississippi Monday series, we thought his talent and story worthy of an encore presentation just to be sure. We're proud to call him a fellow MS creative and we are huge fans and supporters of his mission to keep tintype photography alive and well. Read on for our recent interview with him.
. . . . .Tell us a little bit about yourself… (home town, hobbies, etc.) Well, I was born and raised in Vicksburg, MS. I moved to Oxford in 1999. I have a 7 year son/sidekick, Grayson, who will be famous one day. If you ever meet him, you'll know why. :) As for hobbies, would you consider having a bad case of wanderlust a hobby? I really enjoy getting in my Jeep and just going...it doesn't matter where. Sometimes I take a camera with me. Sometimes I don't. Sometimes I have a particular place in mind. Sometimes I just leave it to serendipity. I really enjoy what I call Delta ridin'. I put some Johnny Cash, Doc Watson or Muddy Waters on the radio and just head down Highway 61 or 49...stopping whenever and wherever I see something interesting. I love Mississippi, and even though I've lived here my whole life, I feel like I've only seen a tiny piece of it. So I have a lot of places left to see and a lot of people yet to meet. I also love camping/hiking...just being outside. I LOVE my analog photography. Digital is fine, but there is just something about shooting some old school film and not knowing whether you got something gallery-worthy or failed miserably until you get into the darkroom and develop the film. I develop all of my own film...both black/white and color. I love using cameras that haven't seen the light of day in 20 or 30 years, or helping a friend revive an old twin lens camera that her grandfather once used. If you get a baby boomer talking about his restored '57 Chevy (the one he dreamed about owning for years as a teenager but never could afford it but now he can), you will get an idea of what I feel like when I get my grubby little paws on some of these old cameras. How and when did you first become interested in Tintype photography? The first time I became interested in tintypes was about 3 years ago. I was taking a workshop hosted by my friends Will Jacks, Chris Williams and Sarah Hodzic at the Shack Up Inn in Clarksdale, MS. The workshop was called Rebirth, and it was billed to be for photographers who are looking for "it" when they aren't really sure what "it" is. It was a week spent wandering through the Delta with all kinds of cameras...digital, film, 35mm, medium format, large format, Polaroids...you name it, it was there. There was another photographer there, Euphus "Butch" Ruth, who was doing tintype demonstrations. There is a certain part of the tintype process where you get to see the negative image turn to a positive in from of your eyes, and I was hooked from the first time I saw it. It's the closest thing to magic I've ever seen. Ever make self portraits? And if so would you share one with us? Do I ever make self portraits? I try not to. :) I'll have to dig one up... (right) Can you walk us through processing a tintype step-by-step? This process is actually called the wetplate collodion process. It was invented in 1848 and patented in 1851 by Frederick Scott Archer. The name "tintype" actually refers to the substrate the picture is taken on. Nowadays, we use aluminum, but if you do this same process on glass, its called an ambrotype. To start the process, you have to coat the aluminum or glass in a substance called collodion. After a couple seconds of being on the plate, it gets tacky, and then the whole plate gets submerged in a light-tight silver nitrate bath for about 4 minutes. The whole time the plate is in the silver nitrate bath, there is a chemical reaction going on between salts that are in the collodion and the silver nitrate. That chemical reaction results in a light sensitive material on the plate. Once the plate comes out of the silver nitrate bath, it has to be kept in the dark until it is time to actually take the picture, so a darkroom is required. While in the darkroom, I take the plate out of the silver nitrate bath and put it in a light proof box that gets put on the back of my camera. Once that box is on my camera, its time to actually take the picture. Once the picture is taken, I have to take the box back to the darkroom and develop the plate. Once the plate is developed, a negative of the image is left on the plate. After the development is stopped, the plate is no longer light sensitive, so I can actually bring the plate out of the darkroom and show you the negative. The next step is a process called "fixing", and it is the part of the process that got me hooked. When you submerge the plate in the fixer, the negative on the plate looks as if its disappearing, but slowly the positive image starts to appear. The whole process from prepping a plate to the fixer takes roughly 10 minutes. The plate then gets rinsed for awhile and varnished to protect the surface. This step takes awhile, so I usually mail the plates or leave them to be picked up later. One of the neat things about the tintype process is how archival it is. I tell everyone who sits for a portrait to write your name/date/location on the back of the plates because it will outlast you...or even anyone who knows you. I like to leave a little bit of information about yourself so the person who finds it 200 years from now will know who you are.
What’s your favorite type of image to create?I am very partial to portraits. Some people like landscapes, etc, but for me, you just can't beat a nice clean portrait. I just love people. What does a typical day look like for you? My typical day is actually pretty boring. I am a draftsman by trade, so I spend most of my day behind a computer running right triangle formulas. I go home, try to get in a run and prepare for my next big adventure. :)
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