A garden oasis and cultural center overlooking the Hudson River

Art Workshop: Tin Type

Justine Spilotros joined Wave Hill this spring as Public Programs Manager, overseeing the art, nature and wellness workshops at Wave Hill. 

Guest Artist Nate Gibbons teamed up with Benjamin Swett  to teach one of the six sessions in Swett’s workshop series on black and white photography this spring. The focus for this session: tin type.

What started out as a 75-lb coil of tin-plated iron delivered by UPS to Nate Gibbons’ workshop has been  masterfully (and chemically) transformed into an authentic tin type photograph that looks like it might have come straight out of an archive of photos of Wave Hill dating from the  1870s. The photograph gives the allusion of an Instagram filter or as if it were photoshopped, but it was taken right here at Wave Hill on April 21, 2015. Workshop participants are posed under one of our most magnificent magnolia trees in full spring bloom.  It was no quick and impulsive click of an iPhone, but an exclusive production that impressed every observer of the event, photography enthusiast or not.  Nate quite literally backed up to the site in his truck, loaded with camera and chemical baths, in order to make this moment happen.  It felt to me as much like a science experiment as it was a work of art.

On an average day in BENJAMIN SWETT’s Black and White Photography class, our mostly digital-focused students receive instant gratification of their work, receive a professional critique from BENJAMIN SWETT, manipulate the images, and save them on SIM cards or jump drives. But in this instance they had the opportunity to slow down, fall on the other side of the lens, and be the apprentices to a master Tin Type photographer as he sets it up with pride and care but also leaves a lot to the light and elements. Not only was a lovely moment captured, one that reminded me of a timeless yearbook photo, but a genuine one of a kind contemporary archive was born. It’s like history in the making, right here on the grounds and workshops  at Wave Hill, and now  in the blogosphere chronicles.

About Benjamin Swett
Benjamin Swett is a New York-based writer and photographer with a particular interest in combining photographs with text. His books include New York City of Trees (2013), The Hudson Valley: A Cultural Guide (2009), Route 22 (2007), and Great Trees of New York City: A Guide (2000). He has received grants and fellowships from Furthermore, the Millay Colony for the Arts, and the Breadloaf Writer’s Conference. He has worked as a newspaper reporter and was a writer and photographer for the New York City Parks Department for thirteen years before leaving in 2001 to pursue photography full-time. In addition to nine solo shows, his work has appeared in close to two dozen group shows, mostly in the tri-state area.

About Nate Gibbons
Nate Gibbons has worked in large format non-digital photographic media since the mid-1970’s, and since 1999 has produced work using a number of different 19th-century photo processes.  He favors cityscapes and landscapes in lower Fairfield County and nearby New York State, most recently working on an extended project documenting the surprising natural beauty of the Bronx River. Past bodies of work include the bridges of the Merritt Parkway and the former industrial mills of Bridgeport, Connecticut. Mr. Gibbons’ work is in numerous private and public collections, including the Yale Art Gallery, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Library of Congress, and the Museum of Modern Art. When not making wet plate images, Mr. Gibbons is a full-time Fire Inspector for the Westport Fire Department. He is also an Associate Fellow of Branford College at Yale University.


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