We caught up with one of our favorite photographers, Giles Clement, on his current tour around the USA.
Growing up in the south, I have many memories of tintype photography. On weekend trips to civil war reenactments or nearby plantations, I watched as husbands and wives stood expressionless waiting for capture, having to stand still for what seemed like an eternity. I remember Nicole Kidman's character, Ada, in Cold Mountain saying in her best southern drawl, "I don't know how to do that... hold a smile." Tintype photography was not only fairly quick for the mid 19th century, it was also inexpensive and conveniently pocket sized. It brought photography within the reach of the working class and the poor and paved the way for improvisational photos. Spur-of-the-moment photos became common and people generally behaved without restraint or formality in front of the camera. The resulting record is rich in detail and in the revelation of attitudes of the era. (virginia.edu)
Giles Clement is an itinerant photographer currently touring the country with his Irish Terrier and a station wagon full of cameras, lights and wet plate collodion chemicals. Clement began his photographic career 15 years ago working as a photojournalist and the honest, direct approach to his story telling photographs has stayed with him throughout his journey.During one stint at a daily paper he found several antique Yashicas in the basement and began taking them on assignment with him. The inherent unpredictability of film and older equipment was in stark contrast to the clinical, perfect pixels that comprises modern photography. In time small formats led to the acquisition and use of 4x5's and 8x10's and then to the jump to wet plate collodion.
I've been touring since March and it's been great, it takes a bit of adjusting to move into a completely transient lifestyle but I've done similar trips before so I have some practice. I've met a ton of awesome people so far, the one things that's struck me is how connected the creative community really is. I'll meet someone in Texas one week, the next week I'll be photographing someone else in New York and they'll be the best friend of the Texan. It's been hugely inspiring to meet a lot of these fellow artists and see how they're recording life and making the world just a bit more interesting.
Has working with wet plates inspired anything else in your day to day life? To do things the olde way?
I think wet plate has made me a better photographer, it's slowed me down in a good way and made me consider what story I'm telling with an image. There's no correcting mistakes in photoshop with a tintype image so I've learned to get things right the first time, make sure I'm really prepared before taking a photo. I suppose that's a lesson that can be applied to most things in life.
How is traveling with all of that equipment? I'm sure there is quite a difference in studio photography and traveling with 19th century gear.
It's a bloody great pain in the ass! I travel with an 8x10 and a couple of 4x5 cameras which, along with lighting gear, tripods, photo chemicals, and all the stuff which goes along with that is quite the pile. I've gotten really good at packing though, pelican cases save my life on a daily basis.
What's on the horizon for you? Any work or collaborations we need to know about?
Well I'm taking a week long break from tintype, dropped Zeiss off at a friends in North Carolina and am on tour with my friends Black Taxi. They're a ridiculously talented and entertaining band out of Brooklyn and I'm typing this from the back of their tour van Tony Vanza in the heart of Georgia.
The rest of the month is going to be super busy though, I'm in Asheville next week, then DC, Philly, NYC, Providence, Woodstock and Portland Maine. Next month I'm heading to the Newport Folk Festival and setting up a tintype studio with Squarespace. I've collaborated with them at SXSW and Shaky Knees this summer doing portraits of the musicians and it's been amazing. Newport should be incredible, can't wait.
Do you have a favorite photo you have taken? Tell me about it.
I'm like any artist where I don't really like something I made more than a few days ago but a few portraits have really stood out for me, one was a 104 year old woman in Maine who had an incredible life story and also had a print of her when she was four years old. Seeing my tintype taken 100 years after her first photo was pretty neat.
Similar to that was a young man who came to the Squarespace studio in Atlanta and brought with him a picture of his grandfather after he was freed from a POW camp in WWII. Steve had grown out his beard and hair to match his grandfathers and I took his portrait to look like his granddads.
If you could work with any other artist, who would it be?
There's a photographer in Poland I really love, Miloz Wozaczynkski. I'd love to see how he works and learn some lighting techniques from him.