I met vintage photographer Lindsey Ross in San Francisco during an event for Visit Santa Barbara. I had been a fan of Lindsey’s work, having found The Alchemistress on Instagram. Her unique tintype photo technique lends a vintage look to her works of art. I seized the opportunity to have her photograph me in my leather fringed jacket, silk scarf and cowboy hat. I like the Western look that she was able to capture.
Q: I understand that you lived on a cattle ranch in Chilcotin, British Columbia. What brought you to Canada and what were some of the highlights of ranch living?
A: I did live and work on a cattle ranch in Chilcotin, BC. A cowboy brought me to the ranch… I started dating a guy in undergrad who had grown up on the ranch and we moved back there for a year to help his folks. Our primary work was building 4-strand barbed wire range fence for them. The highlights were definitely time we spent up on the range pushing cows. The landscape was an abyss of the breathtaking Coastal Mountain Range. We rode the helicopter which dropped off his brother to climb Mt. Waddington – the mountains there look like you could be in the Himalayas. We were also featured in an IMAX film called “Ride Around the World” as the small, family ranch which used dogs to move cows. I am incredibly grateful for the time I spent there and the lessons I learned. The self-sufficiency I learned there has definitely driven my artistic practice. People there always said “Nothing is impossible… impossible just takes longer.” I often remember this when I feel challenged by a particular project or process.
Q: After BC, you traveled to Wyoming. It seems you are drawn to the great outdoors. How do you combine your love of nature and horses with photography?
A: My love of nature and photography has always led me to intriguing places. I worked as a photojournalist for a newspaper when I lived in Pinedale, Wyoming so combining the two came quite naturally. We were sent on weekly outdoor assignments to photograph and write about our adventures in the surrounding mountains, lakes and rivers. My publisher had grown up in Pinedale and encouraged us all to find unique ways to spend time in the outdoors. I loved how photography became my way to meet new people.
Pinedale is a small, cohesive, Wyoming ranching community in the midst of an oil boom. Having a camera became my reason and purpose for getting to know legendary members of that community. One of my most memorable stories was photographing calving with Dan Budd, whose grandfather had settled their ranch and the town of Big Piney. I just felt there was so much to learn from the people I met when I worked there and my camera was the way I was able to access their world.
Q: What makes your photography unique? Tell us about tintype photography and your appeal with vintage photography.
A: I make photographs using vintage photographic processes – primarily wet plate collodion which was the reigning photographic technology from 1850-1890. I make the emulsion on either metal (to make tintypes) or glass (to make ambrotypes). I have to prepare the emulsion in a darkroom on site and expose it and develop it while it is still wet. When the plate is ready it goes in the back of the camera. I make the exposure which is usually 4-12 seconds but (in the case of landscapes) can be a 1-5 minute exposure. I develop the plate immediately so the image appears. The film which was in the camera becomes the final image that goes on the wall. Therefore, each image is a direct positive, one of a kind art object, lending the aura of authenticity and originality to each image.
There are several reasons I love vintage processes: I first fell in love with the aesthetic of the process. I like working with tactile photographic processes – rather than digital processes. Once I started shooting wet plate I really liked the pace and constraints of it. It forces me and the subject to slow down and be present. I also enjoy the fact that I make images using raw materials so I feel a sense of connection to my work and autonomy from manufacturers.
Q: As each of your photos is a work of art, what makes an interesting subject? What are some of your favorite photos and what makes them special?
A: Typically I like working with subjects that have a lot of texture – whether it be people whose faces tell a story about their character or a landscape that shows a sense of mystery or vulnerability. My favorite still life subject matter are root vegetables. They are just so expressive.
Q: How long does it take to create a custom tintype portrait from start to finish?
A: It takes about 15 minutes to make a portrait – when I have photo booth events this is typically how long I take for each subject. I tend to take longer time when I have a private photo session – usually 1-1.5 hrs and we will make several plates trying to get the right image.
Q: Where may we find your work on display?
A: I have a studio gallery in the Funk Zone of Santa Barbara in California. I also have work currently exhibited at Julienne Restaurant in Santa Barbara.
For more of Lindsey’s photography, follow her on Instagram @thealchemistress and follow Nancy D. Brown on Instagram