Combining old and new with tintypes

“Surreal time travel” is how many Flickr members describe Dinah DiNova’s photography. Dinah, known as knitbone on Flickr, masterfully combines the old and the new in a set of unique tintype photographs.

“My photographs really blurs the lines between the modern day and the past in this very confusing but beautiful way,” Dinah tells The Weekly Flickr in the accompanying video. “I love it when people can’t figure out right away who these people are or what they’re doing. You have to sit with a photograph for some time and really let it sink in.”

Tintype photography was the first mainstream photographic process in the United States. Before 1850, photography was very expensive; available only to the very elite. Tintypes — which consisted of creating a direct positive on a thin sheet of cheap iron, coated with collodion (no tin involved whatsoever) — made the process very affordable; allowing a huge range of people to have their photographs taken.

Mardi Love Untitled

Suddenly tintype portraits were made by photographers working in booths or the open air at fairs and carnivals. Because the lacquered iron support was resilient and did not need drying, a tintype could be developed and fixed and handed to the customer only a few minutes after the picture had been taken.

“It was this huge turning point in the history of photography, because all of a sudden, so many people could afford to have their photographs taken,” Dinah says. “And because they’re on metal, they have lasted for a long time, leaving us this very rich, beautiful lineage of different classes, races, genders, and people that otherwise would have really fallen through the cracks. Now [because of this process] we get to hold on to them and still have them in our cultural identity.”

Clara & Cosey Mo having their portrait taken on the coldest day of the year, Lower 9th Ward New Orleans

Growing up, Dinah was always drawn to the aesthetics from the 1800s and early 1900s. As a teenager, she remembers pawing through photography books being particularly fascinated by the old ones.

“What attracted me to tintype photography was this extreme ethereal, ghostly aesthetic that you get from these photographs,” Dinah explains. “In a way, it’s kind of running away from digital photography, running backwards to this handmade art.”

“To do one of these shoots, it really is a production,” Dinah admits. “It’s very involved, it’s very complicated, and you get one shot. So if the exposure is off, there’s a light leak in the camera, or if somebody moves too much and they’re not in focus, you just start over again. Typically a shoot day can be very long. Each photograph can take at least 10 to 15 minutes from start to finish, I generally do one at a time. You could probably do three or four an hour, maybe more.”

Dinah loves that this process allows her subjects to step back in time, giving people an appreciation for what people had to do 150 years ago, just to have one photograph taken.

“Today we can just take selfies all the time, and it’s so simple,” Dinah says. “But [back then] it was really your one shot and you really earned that picture when you took it because you’d sit there for a long time. So I like to tell people [I photograph] to really put yourself into that position of ‘if this is the only photograph I’m ever going to have taken, how do I want to present myself? How do I want to be remembered?’”

The long-term project Dinah has been working is called Tin Sin & KinShip — a tintype documentation of artists, musicians, travelers, and people who live outside of normal social boundaries.

”Everybody wants to know the lineage of their identity,” Dinah says. “Whether it’s your family lineage, if you’re kind of an outcast, you want to know the lineage of the outcasts that came before you. I think we don’t have a lot of that because you couldn’t be gay, you just didn’t have a lot of opportunity to express yourself, unless it was in hiding and in secret. It’s not that something people could be very open about, and it’s not something that you really had a chance to document.”

Abi & Shoog in realtree

“This project is really looking to say this community and these people are so beautiful and so important. We’ve always been here, we’ll always be here, and I want to leave a record of this for the future.”

Dinah started tintype photography six years ago and today admits she can’t stop. “It’s an obsession,” she says.

“There’s a huge amount of love and dedication that I put into this work; it’s a labor of love. I can only hope that that comes across, people see the magic that goes into it, and the heart that everybody puts into making one of these photographs.”


Visit Dinah’s photostream to see more of her photography.

Check out a previous episode: Photographer crafts scenes of iconic Americana

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