The beard has always been a trait of men. Since the beginning of time, beards have been a way to provide warmth in the frigid cold, to enhance their sexual prowess, or to simply express their individuality. In the early 21st century there has been a resurgence of interest in facial hair as a form of creative adornment, to a degree not seen since the mid 19th century.
In 2004, the World Beard and Moustache Association, was established and set the standards for competitive categories and judging criteria for the emergence of Beard and Moustache competitions around the world. With each competitor offering such uniqueness; some dressing in old Civil War fatigues; some dressing as Texas Rangers; or some dressing in their underwear, these competitors needed to be recorded and documented as a new age of bearded men took their places in history.
The "Tintype" photograph is an art. It is not a "point-and-click" process. It takes a deep knowledge of photographic chemistry, technique, and vision to shoot each shot. As a variant of the Wet Collodion process, tintype shots were taken by the hundreds of millions during 1855-1880. Tintypes are hand-made photographs. Each photograph is one-of-a-kind. Each photograph is a unique expression of vision and skill of the person behind the camera.
Project Barbatype has perfected the art of the tintype. The men behind the project, Scott and Bryan, are artists of their own kind. Project Barbatype was born out of a conversation of ones love of tintype, and the others desire to document beard and moustache competitions.
The process for the tintype photograph is just as mysterious, as it is amazing. The process begins with a black metal plate. The plate was iron or steel during the 1800's, but is mainly aluminum today. This plate is then treated with chemicals in their portable darkroom, to produce a light-sensitive coating on one side.
Once the plate has been treated, it is enveloped in a special holder so it can be transferred from the darkroom, to the camera. The plate is protected from any light during the set up process in the camera. Once set up and focused in the camera, the protective slide in the plate holder is removed, the lens cap comes off of the camera, then POP! Their powerful strobe light goes off. The instant explosion of light and heat is something to experience. It is like no other photograph you will ever take. The protective slide goes back into place, and the plate, still in its holder, goes back into the darkroom for processing.
While in the darkroom, some magic is done with the plate before it is brought out for the world to see. When the plate is brought out, it looks like a white, cloudy negative. They then slip the plate into the last chemical where it transforms into a beautiful photograph of unyielding clarity and character. This is not just a photograph. If you want one of those, snap a picture with your phone, then use the dumb-downed filters to give it the old-timey look. This is a time-piece. This is something you will keep forever. This is something you pass down to your children, grandchildren, or great grandchildren.
The thrill of watching this process can be watched over and over again. I had the pleasure of experiencing this at our North Texas Beard Alliance: 5th Annual DecemBeard Event on December 12th. Going through the entire process from beginning to end was exciting.
The guys over at Project Barbatype are fantastic. Watching them work was rewarding. They had the same excitement for every tintype that was made. They too stood there and watched as each photograph morphed into its final pose. This is the kind of work that sets them apart from everyone else. Take a few minutes and go check them out here and visit their Facebook page. And if you have the chance to be an event with them, make plans to do so. It is something everyone can enjoy; bearded or not; men or women; naked or nearly naked (I don't really think this would be allowed, but I am sure someone has attempted it by now).
Also, check out this teaser trailer, produced by filmmaker Kelly Wittenberg. Kelly joined the Project Barbatype team to help produce a full-length documentary about Project Barbatype and what they do. This teaser is just a start, but it's a great behind-the-scenes look at making tintypes on location, and the preparations the competitors go through to get their beards in peak condition. Enjoy!
Here are a few more pictures of their incredible work.