Giles Clement

How did you get into creating tintypes?

"It was kind of a progression from my earlier work. [I was shooting] a lot of large format film stuff. I [began using] film when I first started photography. I started with 35mm [film] and then quickly switched over to digital. I used digital in my professional work. I worked for newspapers and stuff like that. At one newspaper I was working for I found a bunch of old 35mm and medium format cameras [they had stored] in their basement… I started doing assignments with old Mamiyas and old Nikons and stuff like that. That’s how I got back into film. Once you shoot with medium format, 35mm is no longer that fun. And once you shoot 4x5, medium format is pretty boring. And once you shoot 8x10… 

"So I was shooting 8x10 and I hit a point where I couldn’t afford the film anymore. I thought if I could make my own film, it would be cheaper. I looked into doing that. [While researching that] I had seen some photos shot as tintype that I really liked. I liked the aesthetic of it. Part of the reason I shoot film is because it’s a very fallible medium. You can fuck it up pretty easily and tintype is 20 times more fuck up-able. Tintype appealed to me. I got the chemicals and stuff for tintypes on a whim. Once I started shooting it, it got really addictive. You get instant gratification, you shoot the photo and then you see what you got. It’s like shooting polaroid. It’s a rush. A year later I was broke and figured I needed to start making money with this. I guess that’s the long story of how I got into tintypes."

Did you consciously make the decision to become a traveling tintypist?

"No I didn’t! It kind of just happened. I was borrowing a friend’s apartment in Columbus, Ohio for three months when I first started doing it… It was the middle of summer. The apartment I was staying in was like an oven. So I decided to go to the east coast and live somewhere there. I found a room share in Camden, Maine on Craigslist. It’s way up on the coast, a tiny little coastal town. I went there for a month and a half. I was doing tintypes and goofing around. I had my other photography business going as well, just to pay the bills… [After Camden] I went through Detroit, came back through Columbus and then to Wisconsin. I lived in Wisconsin for six weeks or so. Then continued to doodle across the country. I ended up in Portland. I was planning to keep going, but I was working on a project. I was photographing Centenarians, one in each state, with tintype. That was part of my travel, but not a huge component of it. Just something I was working on. So I ended up in Portland. My friends there [encouraged me to stay] and open a studio. So I stayed and opened a studio. And I spent the next year just losing hundreds and hundreds of dollars. Not taking tintypes of anyone in Portland… 

"I got lucky… I got a call from somebody planning a music event down in Texas. They [asked if I would come down] and do tintypes for the event… I said, “Yes, absolutely.” I shut down [my studio] in Portland, got rid of everything that I had, packed up my car and went out there with no real plan. I had that one gig, shooting at Willie Nelson’s ranch down in Texas. So I shot that and then started finding other stuff. A year and half later, I’m still on the road doing it. I didn’t set out to do it, but I’m kind of glad I did." 

What is your favorite subject to photograph?

"I don’t know. I like collaborating with other people. I really enjoy the process of working together. You get a few creative people in the room and you don’t even need a [pre-conceived] idea. Someone will have a spark and you just go back and forth from there. I have some ideas for photos that are my own but I don’t know if coming up with concepts for photos is my strong point. I think what I’m good at and what I really enjoy is working with somebody and collaborating. To the point where you don’t know who’s idea it was anymore. You’re just bullshitting until something happens. I’m good at execution. [Everything that has to do with ‘making’ the photograph. The chemical and the technical aspects. Sometimes I don’t even get that right.] I certainly enjoy and really like some of the photos that have happened that way. [The ones] where the time has flown by, its three hours later, and at the end you get just one or maybe a couple images that you really like…

"I’ve got a few favorite images over the years that have happened like that."

What was the first tintype that you made? 

"The first tintype I did was at three or four in the morning. My friend was doing sleep studies on people. She was the only person awake that late. I [had just received] the chemicals [for tintyping] and mixed everything up. It totally didn’t work. You can kind of see an image, but not really. That was my first tintype."