Skating is raw, it's quick, snappy and beyond dynamic. Capturing that requires a good amount of skill and speed, not just from the camera but the photographer as well. A skatepark is not a place for bulky equipment and prolonged portrait shots. And yet... photographer Jenny Sampson defies all of these rules with her series, Skater Tintypes.
Since 2010, Sampson has been taking candid portraits of West Coast skateboarders, but the real surprise lies in her technique – she uses centuries-old wet plate collodion process that produces tintype photographs.
When contemporary culture meets a 160-year-old photo technique
On her website, Jenny quickly explains what this wet plate technique is all about. In her own words, it involves "hand-coating a metal or glass plate with a viscous, salted collodion (which acts like a glue) and then submerging the plate in silver nitrate to sensitize it."
"While it is still wet, the sensitized plate is put in the camera and the exposure is made. Immediately following exposure, the plate is processed by hand-pouring the developer onto the plate, then washed, fixed and washed again.
The resulting tintype (metal) or ambrotype (glass) is a one-of-a-kind photographic artifact; beautiful, sometimes hauntingly so, and possessing a silvery exquisiteness."
The method was developed back in 1851 and served as a less expensive, less toxic and more mobile alternative to previous photographic processes that enabled photographers to travel and make portraits on the way. Sampson admits she was captivated by the "magical qualities" of the wet plate process and the fact that each tintype is literally one-of-a-kind.
"When I made my first skater tintype in 2010, I was immediately struck by the beauty and bond of merging a contemporary culture with a 160-year-old photographic process.
As I observed and interacted with skaters from varying communities, I quickly identified a depth to this culture that had been lurking just under the surface, which inspired me to keep making these photographs."
Looking at Jenny's photographs can really mess with your brain – the skaters, familiarly dressed in hoodies and fullcaps, somehow look like ghosts from a distant past. The tintype, with all its blurs, scratches and impurities, suggests these images should've been taken a very long time ago... And yet they're not.
Another interesting aspect is the tranquility Sampson's process brings to skateboarding. An otherwise dynamic sport seemingly stops in time and space – wet plate collodion requires longer exposure making the subject spend more time in front of the camera.
And so, instead of the animated, provoking skater portraits we're used to, Jenny offers us an entirely unique perspective on these supposedly 'rebellious' types.
Check out more of Jenny's skater tintypes below and head over to her website to see the rest of the series. Sampson's photographs are also being compiled into a book – Skaters: Tintype Portraits of West Coast Skateboarders (Daylight Books) – that goes on sale October 17, 2017.