Photo project goes back to the future

Women on the Frontline celebrated in tintype revival 

POOLE photographer Carl Wilson is turning to the technology of the 19th century for his latest project, a celebration of women in the modern emergency services.

He is creating portraits of female police officers, firefighters, paramedics, lifeboat crew and coastguards for a charity exhibition to be called Women on the Frontline. Each portrait will be produced as a tintype, a form of photography popular in the mid-1800s.

“I’ve been a commercial photographer for 30 years and seen some huge technological advances in that time,” explains Carl. “Photography is so accessible nowadays, everyone’s taking selfies on their phones, but I want to do something that puts some of the magic back into photography by recording images of people that we often take for granted.”

Tintypes were a common feature at Victorian carnivals and fairs where photographers would produce souvenir images, usually on thin pieces of iron sealed with varnish. Using the collodion wet plate process a light sensitive emulsion is applied to the metal then exposed to light and allowed to dry to create a photographic image.

Although each individual shot is taken in a split second using plenty of flash, there is several minutes’ preparation in each photographic plate – blink and you have to start again.

Claire Clifton

(Claire Clifton)

“It’s quite complicated and there’s a bit of trial and error involved – I use a prop to hold the subject’s head in place once it has been positioned – but it produces incredibly sharp images that have a unique quality about them, much like the subjects I am photographing,” says Carl.

“I’m married with two daughters and I grew up around strong women, I have a lot to thank them for. Women on the Frontline is a way of celebrating not only the bravery and strength of female members of the emergency services, but also to show them as people behind the uniforms.”

Carl would like to hear about any potential subjects to feature in Women on the Frontline. Contact him on 01202 620852 or email Any proceeds from the project will be donated to appropriate charities.