History is alive and well in the work of Chicago-based artist Jen Jansen. Her wet plate collodion photos are one of a kind, preserving a moment in time all in silver and light. Jansen’s work is focused on capturing the natural world in a multitude of wood and steel materials. Her pieces can be geared toward private and corporate clients alike.
Jansen specializes in tintype photos— images made from an emulsion of collodion poured on a piece of metal that date back to the 1850s. Jansen compares them to a giant metal Polaroid.
Jansen’s career has been shaped by trends in photography. “I started in photography by taking a summer session in darkroom and by then taking those skills to a print shop,” Jansen says. “In the print shop, I started learning how to look at negatives and tell how much contrast and density to add to each image.” Jansen loved working in the darkroom just as much as she loved the mechanics of her camera. “It all felt complete to be able to craft the whole process myself,” she says.
After digital hit the photo industry hard, Jansen began restoring old photographs while keeping tradition in mind. “I started getting really old images to restore and had a curiosity about the process. I loved how the [old wet plate collodion tintypes] were created, exposed and preserved all on the spot. I started reading about the process, took a few workshops in San Francisco, and then just started making mistakes ... and I haven’t looked back.”
Jansen offers her services for all types of events, depending on the size and type of images being created (from miniatures to 11-by-14-inch versions). “One of my favorite offerings is the miniature tintype booth, where I create miniature tintypes that can be made into a locket or pendants,” she says. Jansen also has a portable darkroom available for events and has even staged pop-up darkrooms at past events.
Jansen cites the experience as a source of fun in executing events: “People love getting into the history of the process, and it becomes just as much a historical recreation as an authentic historical process. It’s a fun photo opportunity with a true heirloom takeaway.”