Despite tintype photography’s Civil War–era origins, you can hold a magnifying glass to such a photo and see individual threads of clothing. That’s because the image is made of molecular silver crystals, much smaller than pixels, and therefore doesn’t undergo the same blurry degradation that occurs when film or a digital image is zoomed in on or enlarged. It’s Libby Bulloff and Stephen Robinson’s favorite way to take photos in their Pioneer Square studio, Henrietta’s Eye, where the local artists offer portrait sessions to the public and produce their own fine art images.
The quality of the photographs depends on the uncertain effect of each element of the hands-on process—chemicals, light levels, the dark room, and requisite patience—but that’s why Robinson and Bulloff fell in love with the form. That, and the excitement of watching photographs bloom as they pour developing solution over the metal plates, which are used in the old-timey, accordion-like camera instead of film. About a week after having your tintype photo taken, you’ll receive a metal plate with the transferred image: a unique handmade heirloom that an iPhone photo just can’t beat.