Wednesday 2 April 2014

Tintype Tomatoes

Green Tomatoes
Tintype photograph
© Tif Hunter

Until now I've concentrated on how food influences ceramics - from special pots for buttered char or ones for sweet and savoury custards to a jug for pouring vitamin C-laden lemonade.  It's time to broaden the scope of Take One Dish and this month I want to look at food's influence on the art of photography.

We live in an age when everyone is a food photographer.  Snapping away at our dishes with phone cameras and sharing the results with people who may, or may not, be interested.  Sometimes the shot is just to prove we've been there, done that; sometimes it's because the 'dish' we've been presented with is just so beautiful we couldn't help ourselves.  I plead guilty, though I hope I'm discreet.  For the professional photographer, food is a tasty market.  This post is about someone whose passion for food photography is far removed from his commercial work.  It's where he gets the shot he wants, and there isn't a stylist in sight.

Tif Hunter's studio is a calm, sparsely furnished space, with a mix of exposed brick and grey plaster walls, in the 'not yet fashionable' part of Bermondsey.  Housed on the ground floor of a unremarkable mews property, the light is muted and the atmosphere conducive to study.  Yes, I could see myself working here.  On entering the studio you can’t miss the beautiful 10x8 wooden camera with antique brass lens.  Tif had this camera specially made and it is the one he uses to shoot with Polaroid 55 film and to capture Tintype images like the one above.

Dating from 1856, Tintypes are a variant on the wet-plate collodion method invented by Englishman Frederick Scott Archer in 1851.  Although the process was not widely taken up in the UK, tintypes were valued in the USA into the early 1900’s, particularly for portraiture.  Tif was influenced by the work of John Coffer, the father of Tintype photography in the USA.  A unique photograph could be produced almost immediately which was affordable and durable.  A blackened sheet of metal is coated with collodion, sensitised in silver nitrate, and, whilst still wet, the sheet is placed in the camera.  Developing and fixing follow immediately after the picture is taken and the image is then washed, dried and varnished.  Each Tintype is a one-off.

These days the dominant 87 storey 'Shard' skyscraper towers over this part of South London.  Smart restaurants, bars and flower shops co-exist with market stall traders and independent butchers, bakers, greengrocers and cheesemakers who occupy the run of railways arches out of London Bridge Station.  Tif's weekly shop from these traders have provided him with some inspirational subjects.  The butchers, bakers and coffee roasters he has encountered have been immortalised on scarce Polaroid Type 55 film, whilst the produce they sell is captured using the Tintype process.  

"After a number of years of shooting only digitally I felt that I 
needed to return to the magic of the analogue and the darkroom.  
Embracing both the craft and the unexpected in these methods was 
how I had started in photography.  In the Tintype medium, the alchemy 
and physical textural qualities of the results is that much more amazing 
than the black and white methods that I had already known."
Tif Hunter

Since the Tintype is a camera-original positive, all the images appear reversed (left-to-right) from reality.  This is most obvious where the subject includes some text.  Then there's the colour deception.  The tomatoes in this photograph appear lusciously ripe, yet are quite the opposite being an unripe green.  The camera picks up the red pigment which is present even in unripe fruit.  The eye is unable to see it as the colour is at the UV end of the spectrum rather than the red.  These stunning Tintypes, and the Polaroid portraits, culminated in a Tif Hunter exhibition 'On Maltby Street 2011'  Do take a look.

Inspired by Tif's 'Green Tomatoes" how could I not give you a recipe using the fruit.  This recipe appears in An Omelette and a Glass of Wine by Elizabeth David.  She takes care to attribute it to the wonderful Edouard de Pomiane whom she called "Master of the unsacrosanct".  A biologist specialising in food chemistry and dietetics, Pomiane lectured at the Institut Pasteur in Paris for some 50 years, dying in 1964.  The recipe is simply tomatoes, cream and butter, and it's perfect.  A hunk of bread to mop up the juices is all you need with it.  Just make sure your tomatoes are ripe!

"… de Pomiane's … method makes tomatoes taste so 
startlingly unlike any other dish of cooked tomatoes that any 
restaurateur who put it on his menu would, in all probability,
 soon find it listed in the guide books as a regional speciality."
Elizabeth David 

Tomatoes a la Crème

"Take six tomatoes.  Cut them in halves.  In your frying pan melt a lump of butter.  Put in the tomatoes, cut side downwards, with a sharply pointed knife puncturing here and there the rounded sides.  Let them heat for 5 minutes.  Turn them over.  Cook them for another ten minutes.  Turn them again.  The juices run out and spread into the pan.  Once more turn the tomatoes cut side upwards.  Around them put 80 grammes (3 oz near enough) of thick cream.  Mix it with the juices.  As soon as it bubbles, slip the tomatoes and all their sauce onto a hot dish.  Serve instantly, very hot."

Special thanks to Tif Hunter for his time and for allowing me to use his Tintype'Green Tomatoes' to illustrate this piece.


Tif Hunter is an award-winning advertising and editorial photographer who has exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery, London. His extensive body of work includes a collaboration with Stephen Bayley on “Cars – Freedom, Style, Sex, Power, Motion, Colour, Everything”.
In October 2012 Tif Hunter’s Tintype of a Romanesco won Best in Category for a Non-Commissioned Object at the Association of Photographer (AOP) Awards

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