Wonder South

Surplus & Sight

Dispatch 09: Gusdugger Tintypes

Words and Photographs CARY NORTON & JARED RAGLAND

Birmingham-based Cary Norton and Jared Ragland are Gusdugger, a duo devoted to keeping the craft and artistry of tintype photography alive and well in the Deep South. 

Norton and Ragland use vintage large format cameras, hand-crafted chemistry, and a mobile darkroom, to offer individual and group portrait sessions on this remarkable format that reached its peak popularity during and immediately after the Civil War. Tintypes are made by creating a direct positive on a thin sheet of metal coated with a dark lacquer or enamel and used as the support for the emulsion. 

Here they share a handful of their favorite tintype portraits of creative Southern women they've had the pleasure of photographing.

The Gus Dugger Saloon was a bar and tobacco shop located at 2114 1st Ave N in Birmingham during the 1880s. The upper floor of the two-story brick building was occupied by a photographer’s studio, and signage on the facade advertised landscaping, enlarging, and tintypes, as well as an art gallery.

We are happy to begin our #WStakeover with a tintype portrait of artist and former Overlord & High Priestess of the now legendary Bottletree Cafe, Merrilee Challiss.  For years Merrilee has been a leading, driving force of Birmingham’s growth and cultural renewal. Her painting, installation, and public works live in the liminal space between celebration and elegy, where spirits and the unconscious trump reality and lead viewers into a tableaux of imagined realms rife with wonder and beauty, fecundity and meaning.  Follow her @merilka.

Today we continue our focus on Alabama artists with a portrait of the legendary photographer/bookmaker, Pinky Bass.  Based in the coastal town of Fairhope, Pinky reveals the edges of things - the mysteries of life, aging, death and dreams - through works comprised of a myriad of media including installation, polaroid, self-built pinhole cameras—the first of which made from a pop-up travel camper.

Emerging artist, Erin Croxton.  Erin studies photography in the Dept. of Art and Art History at the Univ. of Alabama at Birmingham; her recent work investigates personal identity, the body, and memory.  This portrait was made in collaboration with Erin during a tintype workshop in which photography students were invited to work with us in lighting and composing their self portraits.

Singer, songwriter, and photographer Rachel Roberts.

Here's a bit of info on the process of making a tintype...There are lots of steps and lots of places where the shot can go off the rails. You start with mixing the chemicals from scratch, which is basically creating each component of DIY film. You mix up Collodion, which is your substrate; a Silver Nitrate bath, which is what sensitizes the collodion to light, developer, stop (which in this case is just distilled water), and fix bath. If your measurements are off with any of the elements that go into these mixes, your photo can be radically wrong. To actually make the photo, you flow the collodion onto your plate (which in our case is aluminum painted black), put it in the Silver Bath for three minutes, load it into a film holder specifically made to hold these plates, make your exposure, then head back to the darkroom to develop the plate. From metal plate to finished image it's roughly a ten minute process.

Sculptor and installation artist, Stacey Holloway.  Stacey’s sculptures of animals and houses (and even teardrop trailers yoked to hybrid Zebra-Donkeys, aka a “Zonkeys”) all seem to inhabit two separate worlds – both obsessively detailed and realistic while also strangely surreal. Her latest show, “Herds,” opens tonight at @lowemillarts in Huntsville, Ala. The show features allegorical works depicting a warren of rainbow-colored rabbits and den of miniature wolves, along with deer on stilts and flying seals that explore ideas of success and failure, the temporal nature of plans, and personal nostalgia and narratives. Follow her @hollowspace.

Designer and illustrator Christina Daniel. While freelancing as a graphic designer specializing in branding and web work, Christina also produces a wide variety of lighthearted, cartoon-styled illustrated goods and prints as @daggerfingers.

Julia Sayers, chef, foodie, and writer.  A relative newcomer to Birmingham, Julia is the Managing Editor of Birmingham Magazine, a long-running cultural institution in Birmingham in its 55th year of consecutive year of publishing.  Julia’s love of life and the city is vibrant and infectious, and we are glad to have her in Birmingham. 

Gusdugger photographers Cary Norton and Jared Ragland.

Gusdugger photographers Cary Norton and Jared Ragland.