Throughout history, portraiture has offered us an archaeological snapshot of how we view ourselves and others. Artists engraved the faces of early rulers on coins and painted their beloved on ivory miniatures. Tintype portraiture dates back to the U.S. Civil War and is one of the earliest photographic processes. Its special place in military portraiture began when Matthew Brady brought his photographic darkroom to the battlefield to document the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861. With the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, and the 13th year marking the attacks of September 11th, 2001, this is a time for reflection. Tintyping brings great significance to this portrait project, War and Peace, which presents 26 tintype portraits of active duty military and veterans from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Marines as a kind of “confessional” before the camera.
Fifteen men and nine women of various backgrounds, ages, and roles in the armed forces were photographed in uniform and in civilian attire in an exploration of war, identity, and what serving in the armed forces means. These double portraits contrast each individual and his or her role in the military against his or her identity in a contemporary world that is constantly shifting culturally and politically. A chef, an infantry rifleman, an explosive ordnance device disabler, and a fuel carrier are just a few of the diverse individuals represented. Through the photographic lens, we can study just how the airman in his dress blues relates to the man in the Guns N’ Roses t-shirt.
The unique medium of the tintype celebrates our individuality in the age of digital photography. As we are accosted daily by fleeting images on electronic devices, there is a growing feeling that images lose their sense of permanence or uniqueness. Photographs are no longer created by a chemical interaction between light and silver, but with pixilation and computers with software that is engineered to erase our scars and correct anything ordained to be a flaw. War and Peace makes visible the present-day faces of those in service, a cross-section of our society that we may not often have the chance to meet. Through the tintype, our humanity—epic and small—becomes transfixed by the intrinsic characteristics of one of the earliest photographic processes.