In the Spotlight Blandburg man 'living the dream' taking tintype photographs – Yahoo News

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Jul. 31—BLANDBURG, Pa. — Stepping into Joseph W. Brown’s pop-up photo booth is like going back in time.

Guests are met with a man wearing a vintage apron and hat who is shrouded beneath a cover large enough to keep the light away from the sensitive plates in his massive bellows camera that’s pointed at them.

In a few moments of complete stillness, an image is permanently captured on a piece of metal and preserved by Brown, who professionally goes by the name Joseph Wyman, with a layer of varnish. The same process was used nearly 200 years ago.

“It feels proper to say, ‘I’m living the dream,’ ” he said.

Brown hails from Blandburg, Cambria County, and is a 2006 graduate of Glendale High School.

After graduating from high school, he joined the Army National Guard, where he did a tour in Iraq and was honorably discharged as a sergeant.

While overseas, his interest in photography was nurtured by the armed forces, and he took pictures of the locals, markets and scenery.

Not sure what to do after getting out of the military, Brown enrolled in The Art Institute of Pittsburgh in 2010 to study photography.

“I never knew what I wanted to be as a kid, but as a photographer, I get to be everything,” he said.

While still in school and working for Pittsburgh-based TEQ Magazine, Brown was introduced to Jason Snyder, who had a tintype studio in the city, and he fell in love with the artistry.

“Once I saw the process, I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” Brown said.

It was the slow, deliberate process that attracted him.

The local man still remembers his first attempt at that style of photographs all these years later.

On June 29, 2013, Brown snapped a photograph of his friend Beth using the old technique, and although he enjoyed taking the photo, he didn’t stick with it.

Nearly six years would pass before he would return to that medium when he secured his own studio in Pittsburgh.

“That’s where I wanted to care about it,” Brown said.

He delved into the history of the tintype art form and how it gained popularity quickly among lower-income residents of the country during the Civil War era.

Brown said “tintype” is a misnomer because the photos were never shot on that type of metal, but the phrase was used by salesmen to convey how inexpensive the picture was.

At the time, other photographers would have taken photos on glass — a much more expensive format.

Tintype photographs are created by pouring the chemical collodion on a thin piece of metal, then dipping it into silver nitrate for three minutes.

Brown said this makes the surface UV light-sensitive and is done in a darkroom.

That metal is placed in a plate holder and moved to the camera. The Blandburg native uses a Cambo large-format camera and Bausch and Lomb lens from the 1880s.

Brown throws a large cover over his head and lines up the shot.

After a set amount of time for exposure, which depends on light conditions and other variables, the plate needs to be developed.

That’s done by pouring a water-diluted copper sulfate on it.

Once the shadow of the image begins to develop, the metal is washed with water before a fixer chemical is poured across it.

That’s when the blue image will slowly turn black and white.

After it air-dries, Brown coats the plate in a varnish to preserve the high-detail memory.

With his business, the photographer offers 4×5, 5×7, six-and-a-half by eight-and-a-half, and 8×10-inch pictures.

However, Brown said he dreams of shooting on 11×14 plates in the future.

After honing his craft further and being unable to find an affordable place to live in Pittsburgh, Brown began traveling around the country in a house-van, taking tintype photos at various events.

His first adventure was to Cleveland, Ohio, a few years ago where he set up at an oddity shop for a business’ anniversary extravaganza.

A few gigs later in the same state, and he almost hung it all up.

Brown was working an event in Canton, Ohio, where a bad day increasingly became worse because the chemistry wasn’t working out and repeat photos were putting him further and further behind schedule.

But he bounced back from that and continued practicing his trade.

That is, until his original van broke down in Nashville, Tennessee, and he was stranded there for a few weeks until he could get it fixed.

That’s where he met Zach Willdee, a singer-songwriter from Massachusetts living and working in the city.

The two became good friends.

Willdee has spent a lot of time helping Brown with tintype shoots when he’s in town.

“He’s probably one of the best photographers I’ve ever met,” the songwriter said.

Prior to meeting Brown, the only experience Willdee had with tintype photos was historical mentions.

However, he became fascinated with the process and the photographer’s devotion to it.

“It takes you to another time,” Willdee said.

Once his van was fixed for the time being, Brown made his way back home, but had to start looking for a new vehicle to convert into a mini-apartment on wheels.

In 2021, he found his current living quarters — a 2011 Ford E-350 shuttle bus — complete with a stove, sink, full-sized bed and booth.

There’s a lot of freedom that accompanies van living, and part of that is the ability to pick up and go whenever the inclination strikes.

The only “taxing” aspect is finding a place to park at night.

Brown said he has a lot of safety features built into the vehicle, but he still has to be smart about where he’s setting up camp, whether that’s in a parking lot, beside a lake or in a friend’s driveway.

Since then, he’s made quite a few trips around the states — he’ll be in Boise, Idaho, in September and in Wyoming this October — making several stops back to Nashville, where he stays with Willdee.

“As an artist, I appreciate what he’s doing,” Willdee said.

“It has been awesome watching him grow.”

The singer-songwriter described Brown as a thoughtful person who’s incredibly kind.

He added that he’s spent a lot of time with various artists, and in his opinion, Brown is the best of them all.

To learn more about Brown’s art and journey or to contact him, visit his Instagram account @josephwymanphoto or his website,

He can also be reached at the email address [email protected].

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