A Soldier's Tintype Photos Of Afghanistan Show The Timelessness Of War

Illustration for article titled A Soldier's Tintype Photos Of Afghanistan Show The Timelessness Of War

When Ed Drew, a photographer and an airman, learned that he was being deployed to Afghanistan last spring, he decided to create something enduring, in case he didn't return. That inspiration led him to produce the first tintype photos taken in a combat zone since the Civil War.


Inexpensive and durable, tintypes (which were actually made from thin sheets of iron) cost only 25 cents and could be made in about a minute. Thousands of soldiers fighting for the Union and Confederacy posed for itinerant photographers in makeshift tent studios.

In a short documentary produced by PBS, Drew—who served as a gunner on combat search-and-rescue helicopters—describes why he revived this 19th century art form:

I like tintypes because it's not just something simple … you have to set it up and you have to be really physical with it, you can't just click. You're basically making a photo on a piece of metal. You're exposing it, developing it and fixing it all right then and there.

The whole idea to do tintypes came from the fact that I was going to Afghanistan and I wanted to record the people who I worked with in the most humanistic way possible.

I really wanted to focus on this brotherhood I belong to, these combat rescue individuals.

You can see more tintypes at Ed Drew's website.


Although I applaud his determination, I am really surprised that the military will allow him to take all the stuff needed to do this. Besides the large camera, he needs a tent, or a room on the base for the darkroom, and lots of chemicals. Also, the chemistry to do traditional tintypes is not real safe. The collodion to coat the emulsion is flammable. And in the developing process, there is a cyanide bath followed by an acid bath.