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Meet the tin man: Jon Fletcher brings a 150-year-old photo process back to life

Posted: April 6, 2014 - 9:26am  |  Updated: April 6, 2014 - 1:58pm
Jon M. Fletcher poses Sarah Ragland as he focuses the lens of his 8-by-10-view camera, while making a tintype of the All-County athlete at Menendez High School on Monday afternoon.  DARON.DEAN@STAUGUSTINE.COM
DARON.DEAN@STAUGUSTINE.COM
Jon M. Fletcher poses Sarah Ragland as he focuses the lens of his 8-by-10-view camera, while making a tintype of the All-County athlete at Menendez High School on Monday afternoon.

When Jon M. Fletcher steps into his apron, he steps back in time.

For this special assignment, the professional photographer arrived at Mickler Beach before the sun. He’s not on the clock. This he does for himself.

Fletcher, 36, a former Times-Union photographer, is about to create a tintype, a photograph on metal that uses a 150-year-old process.

“You can pull out your cellphone and take a picture, but just having to go through the process, the mechanical aspects of photography, appeals to me,” said Fletcher.

Slideshow: See Fletcher's tintype process and finished portraits

Slideshow: Tintypes from the 1860s and 1870s

He pulls the lid off a re-purposed movie projector box to reveal numerous brown glass bottles of varying shapes and sizes, a sight that might resemble a meth lab to the untrained eye.

He puts on gloves to help guard against stains the chemicals will leave.

He fills trays with water, mixes solutions and places a stack of anodized aluminum sheets, or plates, in his apron pocket.

“They never used tin,” Fletcher said. “The metal they used back in the day was thin sheets of iron.

“Tin was an inexpensive material and this new, cheaper photographic process on metal became known as a tintype,” Fletcher explained.

A creative outlet

Worried about his future, Fletcher left a traditional newspaper job in 2011 for a steadier institution.

It wasn’t long before he realized he had traded stability for creativity. He traveled to New York to attend a tintype-making workshop. There he fell in love with photography — again.

“With digital (photography) it’s fairly predictable. You know if you dial in this exposure, it’s going to look like this.” Fletcher said. “You kinda have to let go with (tintypes). You can predict some of it but there are so many variables.”

On assignment

Back on the beach, Fletcher turns his focus to his assignment.

“I don’t have any idea, because it’s colder today, if this picture is even gonna come out,” Fletcher said as his subject, the St. Johns County 2014 girls soccer player of the year, arrives.

He lifts his 8-by-10 view camera and tripod to his shoulder and walks to the the water’s edge.

He takes off his shoes and socks, rolls up his pants and goes to work.

“One of the main reasons I wanted to do this was to have permanent images of the people I care about. I want to get pictures of people who mean the most to me.”

The stains on his hands will fade away in a week. The images he created with them, however, will last much longer.

 
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