Victoria Will: Master Of Timeless Tintype

With the world’s ceaseless appetite for all things “Hollywood,” the need for publicists, newspapers, magazines and news agencies to feed the public new celebrity photographs is never-ending. But how does a photographer create a new look in a sea of sameness? Brooklyn-based Victoria Will found a way by going back in time, applying the 19th-century wet-plate collodion process to a 21st-century challenge.

DPP: What is it about using the collodion process to create tintypes that attracts you?

Victoria Will: One of the things I love about tintypes is that they’re monochromatic. I shoot so much color on the digital side of things that this process allows me to focus on the graphic nature of the photographs and the contrast between light and dark. Also, it gave me a reason to shoot with a 4×5, which I hadn’t used since my time at Princeton. But it’s like riding a bicycle; it came right back, as did all the things I love about large-format work. You have to slow down and be more deliberate and more conscious of everything. I was aware of tintypes when I was studying at Princeton, but it was when I saw Lisa Elmaleh making them at the Penumbra Foundation booth at Photoville in Brooklyn that I realized how they could be applied to what I was doing these days.

DPP: How so?

Will: I thought that if they could be done in a photo booth type of environment at Photoville it was something that I could do at the Sundance Festival. I learned the process through watching videos on YouTube. It’s the world we live in now.

Photo by Victoria Will

DPP: How did you then apply the process at Sundance?

Will: I had a whole team supporting me—one person helping me with the digital photo shoot I was doing for The Associated Press, which brought me there in the first place, one assistant in the darkroom helping me with the wet collodion, then someone helping me at the end of the day scan and caption all the plates. I photographed 300-plus actors and directors over the course of four days. Sundance is held in Park City, a ski town in Utah. During the year, there are clothing stores, restaurants and ski stores all up and down Main Street. When Sundance comes, many of these businesses lease their space to the different organizations covering the festival. The Associated Press rented a ski shop. I’m not a staffer for The AP, I’m freelance.

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