We know that behind every image revealed there is another image more faithful to reality, and in the back of that image there is another, and yet another behind the last one, and so on, up to the true image of that absolute, mysterious reality that no one will ever see.
OVER the past year I’ve been filtering shots from hiking excursions in North Carolina and Virginia through an iOS app called TinType. TinType re-creates the look of 19th century photographs produced on thin iron plates coated with light-sensitive emulsion. I’m drawn to the archetypal views many early tintypes depict—forests, pathways, mountaintops, streams—and to the rich vocabulary tintypes express through their curious, often amazing artifacts of light and chemistry, mysterious renderings of focus, and the unpredictable ways these objects age and show signs of how they have been used. I like to imagine these little sheets of metal as a subtle kind of hard disk emblazoned not only with the data of the original exposures, but with the impression of each interaction they have had with their environments and the people who held them in their hands and experienced some type of connection to them since their creation.
I think I would enjoy creating traditional tintypes, and I tip my hat to photographers honoring early tools and processes by doing that in beautiful ways. Over the past year, however, I’ve enjoyed the ready access I’ve had to my camera to record my experiences, as well as the ability to take a lot of pictures to select from later. In the early days photographers had to haul heavy equipment miles along a trail or up a mountain to capture the landscapes to which I’m drawn. And they could usually only expose a handful of plates at a time. There’s a freedom in releasing that apparatus, and a satisfaction in being able to align the taking of a picture with the moment that inspires its creation. These photographs, unlike traditional tintypes could be, are an extension of my perception as I move freely through the world.
As much as I love the places I photograph, what I most want to explore is how I experience those places. I want to understand the qualities that make the things I observe matter to me. Viewing the present through the vocabulary of tintypes, through the layers of time and process and history they evoke, is a way of approaching that challenge—of taking up the invitation Antonioni extends to explore beyond the surface. What aids my search is that I can never imagine how these images will turn out—and that is part of the fascination they hold for me. In making their source something beyond my expertise, I get to experience the results more as surprises, discoveries, gifts, than a product of what I already know. And that is how I want to encounter the world.
Imagine a single thought that encompasses, illumines, and lifts to its natural repose everything you’ve ever experienced in your life. Now imagine progressing to that thought through a series of images. The first one stands for ten, the next for a hundred, the next for a thousand. Each one resonates more powerfully and authentically in your heart and in your mind than the last. This is a journey I think I’ll be making my whole life. I’m glad to be able to document a part of that journey here.
—Todd Stabley, June, 2019