David Prifti’s Collodion Tintypes at Gallery NAGA

Looking for something to do after work Friday, I perused the listings at Boston Photography Focus, a local photo scene blog produced by the fine folks at the Photographic Resource Center. I decided to visit Gallery NAGA which was open late due to the general First Friday observance around town.

On view at a NAGA were self-portraits and holograms by Harriet Casdin-Silver and Collodion Portraits by David Prifti. I was immediately drawn to Prifti’s work in the front room of the gallery, where guests were sitting on stools by John Eric Byers.

The prints were tintypes, unique direct positive prints made by coating metal plates with collodion emulsion. This 19th century process is difficult and even dangerous but is still practiced by many contemporary photographers, and the tonal depth and beautiful imperfections of Prifti’s work reminds me why. This video gives some sense of what the process entails.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gyf8fQOdvDs

But this work is not all about the chemistry process. The models, some with extensive body art, break out of the antique look of the process by staring into the camera. The shallow depth of focus and orthochromatic color balance add to the mystery of the poses and the people. Especially alluring are the works featuring a model called Hannah, whose freckles are thrown into sharp relief when in focus and disappear beyond that plane. Sure, you could do this sort of thing digitally if you were so inclined, but somehow that’s missing the point. These old processes include a chimerical chemical randomness that simply can’t be found in digital work. I think that makes all the difference.

Hannah and Ishonni, 2007, Tintype by David Prifti

After perusing the gallery, I walked down Newbury street looking for an al fresco dining opportunity despite the gathering clouds. I dropped in on Piattini where they were happy for me to sit outside since nobody else was. I suppose it could be coincidence or timing, but by the time I had finished my fusilli bolognese and glass of montepulciano d’Abruzzo, the patio was full.

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2 comments

  1. Leslie

    I think “chimerical chemical randomness” would be a good blog name or a phrase to repeat somehow in regular conversation…the latter is a good challenge.

  2. kong

    We chose the same video. I just checked out David Prifti, his work is awesome, I love the still life photos he takes. I’m still trying to learn the scientific in-and-outs of the processes, but I’m noticing many tintypists are using different chemicals and techniques. I was never comfortable in a lab so to me it’s confusing.

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