Vintage Vignette - April 2015
by Martha Whitney Butler
- this month, meet Michael N. Foster, who's reviving an earlier art form with a contemporary twist!
I had the pleasure of hanging out with "The Tin Man," as I affectionately deemed him, while he visited. I made sure to accompany him to the local Waffle House with friends after a fun night at Smith & Lens Gallery where he prepared for his shoot. Owners Ann Madden and Sandy Maggio showed him the town, all the while mentally preparing him for his upcoming fame in Bay St. Louis. They had a feeling that he'd be booked solid the next day at Arts Alive! with so many spirited art patrons crawling the streets.
Yours truly was his first appointment. I'm surprised I made it after a night that involved a Waffle House appearance, but I had been practicing my pose for a week and I was dedicated to my a.m. time slot. Here is the fantastic result:
I caught up with Michael after Arts Alive! to get the layman's lowdown on his sorcery. Here's how he explained it:
"The process is called 'wet-plate collodion process' and depending what you are shooting on, glass or metal, it's either an ambrotype or tintype. I process the plate, sensitize it, and process it in a dark room. When you do this, you're creating a layer of film to take the picture on. I use aluminum to back the photos and just put the plate in my camera to take the picture."
Simple, right? This process dates back to the mid-1800s and was discovered by Frederick Scott Archer. In the antique world, these tin types are a hot commodity.
When I asked him about his stay the Bay, I could sense the excited exhaustion in his tone, "It was awesome! I honestly left feeling like I knew everybody. Y'all were such a joy to be around. I was thoroughly surprised by the art scene in Bay St. Louis and it was one of the busiest sessions I've had."
After a day of shooting some of the most interesting characters in town, including the ladies of The Raw Oyster Marching Club, Foster produced a bevy of cathartic images of a community draped in beauty and bursting with intrigue. He's planning to return to the Bay for a photography project featuring The Raw Oyster Marching Club.
I knew it wasn't an ordinary photograph. I understood that it was a chance to perhaps find myself sitting on the shelf of a quaint antique shop one day, sparking the intrigue of passersby and eventually moving on to a new venue. I could travel in this portrait. There's no telling where I will end up. It is my vessel through years and years of inevitable time. I'm bound to this earth by a photograph that captured my soul - and I am okay with that.
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