I have a show coming up at the Little Theatre on East Avenue in Rochester. The exhibit is in the cafe and runs from May 23 through June 19. Opening reception is on Tuesday, May 26 from 5p-7p.
Portraits is an exhibition of tintypes and ambrotypes made using the wet-plate collodion process. Invented in 1851, this versatile process dominated the photographic field for several decades and was used to document people and places worldwide. Ambrotypes and tintypes were a popular format for portraiture even though they were not reproducible. Like a photobooth picture or a Polaroid, there was only one and a choice had to be made as to who got to keep it.
This is one of several aspects that Libby finds appealing in this archaic and difficult process. Today these unique images can easily be scanned and reproduced but the result is not the same as the original object. There is physicality and a weight to the originals. Each one is made by hand, touched by the photographer, and was in the same room as the subject. It’s a relic.
These portraits on glass and metal embody and belie their Victorian origins. The characteristics of the process—sensitivity to blue light, very fine grain, slow film speed necessitating long exposure times, and the creamy tones—delineate it from modern day films and digital photography. It allows us to see ourselves through a 19th century mirror.
Jenn Libby has been using wet-plate photography to make art for the past decade. This is the first time she is exhibiting her portrait work. In 2014 she founded Genesee Libby Studio in the Hungerford Building in order to begin offering wet-plate collodion portrait sessions and workshops to the public.