Exhibition is Made in Sunderland

Different view: Photographer Andy Martin with examples of his distinctive portraits. Below, Echo's Katy Wheeler.
Different view: Photographer Andy Martin with examples of his distinctive portraits. Below, Echo's Katy Wheeler.
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AN ARTIST has taught himself a rare form of photography to create a unique exhibition of Wearside faces.

Andy Martin has spent the past three years perfecting the art of wet plate photography, which was commonly used in the 1850s.

The Grangetown photographer used a camera that hadn’t captured an image for 100 years to create a series of portraits of friends, family and well-known Mackems.

Tonight the images, which feature portraits of Frankie Francis from Frankie and the Heartstrings and Ross Millard from The Futureheads, will go on display to the public as part of a month-long festival of photography.

Andy, who has a studio based in Sunniside, said: “In the 1850s, this was state-of-the-art photography and was in common use until the 1890s. Before that, photography portraits were for the elite in society, but this brought it to the masses.

“In Sunderland there were lots of portrait studios which used this technology along John Street and Norfolk Street and people would go along for family portraits. It was commonly used to photograph corpses which is macabre.”

Andy has created a series of tintypes, a particular form of wet plate photography, after getting to grips with equipment only used by a handful of people in Britain.

“I bought the camera from Charlie Eagles’s collection and it probably hadn’t been used for 100 years,” he explained. “I was worried that it wouldn’t work, but it did the first time.”

Speaking about the process, he said: “You start off with a plate which is coated in collodion, it’s then put in a silver nitrate bath to make it light sensitive. You take the photo and then develop it in iron sulphate solution and then use a fixer to create the image.

“It’s an incredible form of photography, as there are so many variables which mean it could go wrong.”

A launch evening for the tintype exhibition, entitled Tins of Town, which is being displayed alongside airshow photographs by Roger Coulam, is being held tonight at Creative Cohesion in Sunniside.

Andy said: “The tintypes are interesting because people look really different on the plate than they do in real life. “Colours come out quite differently so people with blue eyes end up having white eyes.”

The tintypes exhibition is part of The Social: Encountering Photography, a month of displays and exhibitions which celebrate photography in Sunderland.

It is the largest festival of its kind, celebrating talent on our doorstep, while also attracting renowned international photographers.

* For details and a full line-up of events visit www.thesocialnepn.co.uk.

* The Made in Sunderland exhibition, incorporating Tins of Town, is available to view at Creative Cohesion in Nile Street Thursdays to Saturdays from 10am to 4pm.

Hard to keep a straight face

Like most people, I’m used to having my photograph taken with a smartphone these days. Ours is the point and snap generation, where any ‘selfie’ can be instantly manipulated with the help of an app to enhance your appearance.

There’s something a lot more intense and, dare I say it, honest about tintype photography though. Every blemish, line and wrinkle shows up on this archaic form of photography.

I was asked along to Andy’s studio to sit for a portrait. Though it’s a traditional form of portraiture, he encourages people to bring along props, if they wish.

Sitting down against the specially-made head-rest - you have to stay incredibly still or else the image blurs - I held my expression for 10 seconds while the old camera went to work.

The first images we tried were straight-faced, prop-less, photos and the result was something a little haunting to say the least. There’s something about the eyes with tintype photography which makes the portrait look like it’s peering into your soul.

As I had sunglasses to hand, we tried a few shots with them which proved a lot less frightening.