Photo Essays

Portraying the Sometimes Strange American Self in Tintype Photographs

Tintype photograph  (1860s-1890s). (Courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries)
Tintype photographs (1860s–1890s). (All images courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries)

Tintypes were the first form of photography to really allow the public to get a quick, inexpensive, and durable portrait. Debuting in the 1850s, they peaked during the Civil War, a popular method for preserving oneself just before heading to battle or heading West. They also encouraged some of the first experimentation with photography as an art form, where how people chose to pose, such as with animal props or in reenactments of their trade, was a new type of the portrayal of self in a changing landscape of public and private identities. It also resulted in some really just strange scenes as our country got used to being in front of the camera.

A lot of 179 of these tintype photographs dating from the 1860s to 1890s is part of the upcoming Fine Photographs & Photobooks sale at Swann Auction Galleries, and they are something of a core sample of the shifting social changes in the country, and how those 19th century people were choosing to remember themselves and portray others in the post-Civil War era.

Here are some selections from these 19th century tintype photographs:

Tintype photograph  (1860s-1890s). (Courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries)
Photograph of a photographer with his camera. Tintype photograph (1860s-1890s).
Tintype photograph  (1860s-1890s). (Courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries)
Portrait of portrait painting. Tintype photograph (1860s-1890s).
Tintype photograph  (1860s-1890s). (Courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries)
A girl, her doll, and perhaps a crutch? Tintype photograph (1860s-1890s).
An early William Wegman? Tintype photograph (1860s-1890s).
An early William Wegman? Tintype photograph (1860s-1890s).
Tintype photograph  (1860s-1890s). (Courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries)
Discarded vices.  Tintype photograph (1860s-1890s).

The 179 studio and “en plein air” American tintype photographs from the 1860s-1890s are for auction at the Fine Photographs & Photobooks sale at Swann Auction Galleries (104 E 25th St #6, Gramercy, Manhattan) on April 18. 

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