Traveling Tintypes: A Visit to Lumiere in Austin

by Caleb Bell March 15, 2023
Lumiere Tintype Studio in Austin that looks like a small barn shed

Lumiere tintype studio. Photo: Adrian Whipp/Lumiere.

Lumiere, a traveling tintype portrait studio, takes up semi-permanent residence in the back lot of Justine’s Brasserie in Austin. Founded in 2013, the studio is owned and operated by photographer Adrian Whipp, and is inspired by the itinerant photographers of the 1800s.

Though Whipp and his studio travel, including for private events, appointments for portraits at Lumiere are typically available in the evenings on Thursday through Sunday. Walk-ins are accepted, but appointments are encouraged.

While recently in Austin, I booked an appointment to experience the tintype process firsthand.

After parking in Justine’s designated lot, my wife and I crossed the street and made our way through the restaurant’s courtyard, discovering Lumiere near the back. Whipp was sitting at the door of the studio to greet us. Small but cozy, the space is lined with wood and has an assortment of Whipp’s portraits hung around the walls. 

Tintype in a chemical tray bath being produced

A tintype being developed at Lumiere.

We checked in and selected our tintype size. Whipp offers 5 x 7s for one to two sitters, and 8 x 10s for one to four sitters. He also offers pet portraits upon request.

After we settled on a 5 x 7, he positioned us towards the back of the studio, reset the lighting, and pulled down the backdrop. Then, after tweaking our stances and adjusting the camera, Whipp braced us for the flash — a quick bright flash is important to ensure a crisp image. Click.

He immediately went into the darkroom area in the back of the studio to start developing the print. 

Within a few minutes, he came rushing out with the tintype in a pan and allowed us to watch the image come to life. The metal plate, which had been coated in emulsion prior to our photo, began reacting to the developer chemistry. He repeatedly washed over the plate, bringing out more detail with every pass.

“A lot of people understand that a tintype is a handmade photograph, but it really clicks as they watch their own image appear before their eyes,” commented Whipp.

“Even when one understands all of the chemical reactions that must occur in order to make a tintype, there is still a certain mystery to the process that defies explanation,” he said. “This often has me wondering about exactly how we came up with such a strange and beautiful art form.”

Photo of the writer and his wife

Caleb and Kate Bell. Photo: Adrian Whipp/Lumiere.

He took our portrait back to the darkroom and said it would be ready to be picked up in about thirty-five to forty minutes. The plate needed to be coated with a final layer of varnish.

We returned to Lumiere after hanging out in Justine’s courtyard and picked up our piece (which comes in a nice embossed box). We may have left with a unique souvenir, but, more importantly, we left with a greater understanding of the art of tintype photography.

“I hope that folks leave with a new appreciation for the craft of photography, which has undoubtedly lost some of its magic since the dawn of its digital democratization,” said Whipp.


Follow Lumiere on Instagram for studio updates.

0 comment

You may also like

Leave a Comment

Funding generously provided by: