look nice and bring $60

Last spring, Keegan and I pulled a fast one on our friend David.

He is an easy person to abduct.

We told David that on such and such day, we will pick you up. We are going somewhere that will remain unbeknownst to you. Look nice and bring $60. And don’t ask questions. 

David’s cooperation skills are unrivaled.

If I had been at the other end of this, I wouldn’t stop asking questions. “Why are you doing this to me?” “What is going to happen?” “Will you give me a hint?” "Will there be food?"

The purpose of this trip to Salida was to get our portraits taken by a professional.


This was not like the Lifetouch portraits taken in elementary school. Do you remember choosing the hot pink or an emerald green backdrop and matching your school clothes accordingly?

And if your parents truly loved you, they would order stickers of your cute face.

The biggest difference about the adult portrait experience is that we were at a studio of a real artist. Tim Brown is a craftsman who has revived the art of tin type portraits. This type of photography was all the rage in the 1860s and 70s.

Tin types are made by creating a direct positive image on a thin sheet of metal.

Tim has a very cool studio and told us we could hang out and drink beers while we waited around to be photographed. It is an unhurried process.


Inside his studio were tin type portraits from yester year, the wild wild west, when Salida was a lot dustier. He also had a lot of eclectic objects including lava lamps, dolls, and unexpected hats.

Tim used a lens from 1870 to capture us in 2017. He moved around big lights and had us sit on a stool and told us to be very still.

Tim also told me before sitting down for the portraits, than any wrinkles, freckles, or blemishes will really show up on the print. This is a terrifying thing to tell a freckled, wrinkled, person like myself. 

After a photo was taken, we piled into the small dark room. Tim taught us about the chemistry of developing the photos and swashed around the metal plates in some sort of acid.

This was my first time in a dark room, but I imagine that this is what the men and women behind the camera live for, that moment when the invisible becomes visible. With a shake of his wrist, suddenly a David, or a Keegan, or a Caroline appeared from the ether.

It is so different from how things work in our camera phone world. There is no waiting, a selfie is ready for the posting to social media. Olde time photography is slow and painful.

On that spring day, there were only two exposures, only two chances to look beautiful. 

We left Tim Brown's studio empty handed. He had to do some curing, something technical, before we could take our photos home. He promised that he would ship them to us. 

It took weeks. I kind of forgot what the pictures of my friends and me looked like.

The tintypes came in a black shiny box with each photo in wax envelope. It smelled like lavender.


Maybe someday in the future, someone will find this box in an attic and wonder who this frowning despondent person was.

The thing is I'm not that serious, it's just that you have to stay still for three seconds. Smiling is not recommended.

The old adage is that good things are worth waiting for. I think it needs a rewrite. Waiting for things  makes them that much better.