LEXINGTON, Ky. — Currently, most pictures are taken digitally, either on a phone or digital camera, but one Lexington man is going way back in time, using a type of photography invented in 1851.

What You Need To Know

  • Tintype photography was invented in the 1850s and was popularized during the Civil War era 

  • Mark Cornelison, a retired newspaper photographer has been taking tintype photos for just around a year 

  • Each picture takes around 10-15 minutes to complete  

  • Once complete the pictures last centuries making them family heirlooms

Lexingtonian Mark Cornelison has been taking photographs for over 30 years, but perhaps none more unique than the tintype photographs done using chemicals, tin and silver. He’s been doing it for just about a year.

“I drove to Elgin, Illinois (last November) and spent two nights and we had a 14 hour one-on-one workshop,” Cornelison said.

It’s a photography type started in the 1850s and popularized in the 1860 and 1870s. He learned the craft from Travis Linville, a former Kentuckian and now photography professor in Illinois.

Each chemical covered plate sits in a silver nitrate bath for around three to five minutes before it’s even ready for use. Cornelison said it takes 10 to 15 minutes to create one picture, which back in the day was an impressive feat.

“All this has to be done before; you got about five minutes before you ever even take a picture,” Cornelison said.

From there, into a cartridge under red light because the plate is sensitive to white lights. Once it’s loaded into the camera, then Cornelison is ready to take the picture.

Back under red light, Cornelison sprays a developing chemical and water on the plate and an image appears like magic.

It’s the same 15 minute process for every picture Cornelison wants to take of his subject. But he loves the old school way of shooting.

“It’s hard to know if you’ve nailed it every time and that’s part of the fun, too. It’s like photography used to be, we’d shoot ballgames and all this other stuff and you wouldn’t necessarily know you have it until you got back to the office and developed that film,” Cornelison said.

The old school, former Herald-Leader photographer said people are amazed to see the photos develop in real time.

“To be able to see that image appear out of nowhere, when you’ve never seen it, it does have a sense of magic to it,” Cornelison said.

Cornelison says unlike today’s cameras where you can take as many pictures until you have a perfect shot, there’s always an unknown doing tintype.

“I love the unknown. I love it when I’ve messed up as long as I have an image. There’s several images I have that are messed up and have chemical streaks or whatever but to me that’s part of it,” Cornelison said.

It’s a hobby turned side business and a way to meet interesting people along the way.

“Melt is the time that your subject arrives and as you’re shooting and talking, their inhibitions is melting away so you get to that real person there. And that’s what I’m trying to do, I’m trying to show the real personalities.”

Making family heirlooms, one flash at a time.

Tintype photography was used to photograph Civil War soldiers and President Abraham Lincoln.

Learn more about Cornelison and scheduling a session at his website.