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[hyphen] AMERICANS:
Contemporary Tintype Portraits
Keliy Anderson-Staley

March 2 – May 2, 2012
Public Portrait Sessions with Anderson-Staley: Wednesday, February 29 starting at 10:00am...Click for more details
Student Seminar: Thursday, March 1 at 11:00am (Photography School Lecture Theater, Bldg. 530, Rm. 118)
DSC Portrait Session with Anderson-Staley: Thursday, March 1 at 12:30pm (Bldg. 530, Rm. 225)...Click for more details

Artist's Talk and Opening Reception: March 2, 6:00-8:00pm

Keliy Anderson-Staley
Helen © Keliy Anderson-Staley

“Perhaps that is what is most striking about these pictures: The people portrayed still appear to be growing into them, still seem in the process of becoming themselves. In this way, Anderson-Staley’s work transcends the undoubted curiosity value of her chosen medium. Before they are tintypes, these pictures are portraits, portraits of contemporary Americans (perhaps, even, when seen collectively, a portrait of contemporary America). As such, they raise the whole question of photographic portraiture, of what exactly can be deduced about an otherwise unknown person from a mere picture of his or her face.”
—Geoffrey Batchen from Contact Sheet


These are portraits of contemporary Americans, but each one is made as a unique and un-reproducible tintype image using a technology and a technique from the middle of the nineteenth century. These subjects appear as if they have been transported from an earlier and more serious time when the making of an image was a slow, difficult and rare event; when the image was a landmark in the sitter’s life and one of very few images that might ever be made of that person in their life. In our modern society the ubiquity of images, camera phones and the digital “availability” of innumerable images has inured most of us to this potential “presence” that an image of others; or even of ourselves might possess. We have suspended our wonder. The long exposures necessary to make these collodion images create a very different kind of photographic event to the spontaneous “snapshot” aesthetic to which we have now become so accustomed.

With faces that emerge from the dark and resonant space of the frame these subjects present themselves to us in a way that is both unfamiliar and riveting. So many of these portraits show each sitter with a deliberate gravity and with such remarkable clarity that the reflective metal image draws us more deeply into the sitter’s space and time than we are prepared for.


Each image in this project presents a face and is titled simply with a first name. The title of the project alludes to the hyphenated character of American identities (Irish-American, African-American, etc.), while only emphasizing the shared American identity. Therefore, although the heritage of each individual might be inferred from assumptions we make about features and costumes, the viewer is encouraged to suspend the kind of thinking that would traditionally assist in decoding these images in the context of American identity politics.

Like the photographers of the 1850’s, I use hand-poured chemistry that I mix myself according to original recipes, period brass lenses and wooden view cameras to expose positive images directly onto blackened aluminum and glass.

The individuals I photograph look contemporary, but there is also something anachronistic about these images—a confusion about their place in history—as if they have been detached from time, and the viewer cannot quite put them back in their proper context. Yet, with their contemporary dress, tattoos and modern expressions, they can only truly belong to the current moment.

The nineteenth-century collodion process was frequently used for “scientific” ethnographic studies of the human face, many of which were based in racist assumptions about physiognomy. In using this process, I hope to make the history of portrait photography one of my primary subjects. The project draws attention to the fact that images of ourselves exist within a history of images. Our identities are linked to the visual history of social difference, a history in which photography has not always played an innocent role.
    Keliy Anderson-Staley
Jeremy © Keliy Anderson-Staley
Each portrait is a fairly straightforward likeness, and my sitter knows that it is for a project, that it will become part of a “collection” of hundreds of images, but they also participate in shaping the image that represents them. These resulting images are often exhibited among dozens of portraits, portraying Americans in all their variety. Echoes and patterns of similarity and difference can be found across the collection, but each portrait reminds us of the persistent uniqueness of human faces, and the common human denominator comes to the foreground.” —Keliy Anderson-Staley

Click HERE for information about Keliy Anderson-Staley

All images are tintypes.

Click HERE for On View Magazine Cover Story featuring this exhibition.
Click HERE for press articles and official website.

Keliy Anderson-Staley Keliy Anderson-Staley
Keliy Anderson-Staley
Dulce © Keliy Anderson-Staley Tia © Keliy Anderson-Staley Kristen © Keliy Anderson-Staley

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Exhibitions and programs at the Southeast Museum of Photography are supported in part by Daytona State College, Volusia ECHO and the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs and the Florida Council on the Arts.

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