Throwback Portrait Photography Finds Its Niche in a Landmark Studio on Main Street in Minturn
Driving through Minturn to Ski Cooper for the first time this winter, bargain-hunting skiers might notice that Battle Mountain Trading Post, a cornerstone retail outlet on Main Street, has been rebranded as Revival Photographic. In March, photographer Kevin Banker quietly took over the Trading Post lease and transformed the antique shop, appropriately, into a 19th-century-chic tintype photography studio, complete with an old-school darkroom and bright garage bays where by next summer he hopes a communal art studio will blossom (he’s working on a liquor license, too).
About two years ago in his Minturn apartment, Banker, an architectural photographer by trade with an extensive résumé that includes cinematography for production companies like ABC and Fox, started dabbling with the wet plate collodion process, an early photographic technique invented in 1851 that had replaced the daguerreotype in portraiture by the 1860s.
“I was tired of people telling me they wanted things Photoshopped,” he laughs. “No, it’s really just such an art.... It’s not something that’s going to sit on your phone, even the imperfections in the print make it interesting and unique—it’s a wall-hanger.”
Because the images are captured directly on metal or glass plates (singular negatives known as ambrotypes) every photograph Banker makes (tintype images from $80 per plate, $200 per session; ambrotype images from $160 per plate, $400 per session) is unique, a novelty that has attracted a steady stream of families and their dogs, newlyweds and expectant moms, to sit in his studio.
The process of creating and developing each plate is just as unique.
“It’s less of a technique and more like alchemy,” Banker explains in a crimson-lit darkroom. First, he dunks a square metal plate into a bath of collodion, a syrupy (and flammable) solution mixed from alcohol and ether, and lets it sit for three minutes. Then he puts the plate into a light-proof box that’s inserted into the camera as a metal or glass negative. Banker covers himself and the camera box with a hood and, with a bright poof from the strobes strewn about his studio space, the image is captured on the plate. The best part is heading back to the darkroom to see the rest of the development process (akin to waiting for a Polaroid to reveal itself), when he dips the plate into the fixer solution to a frequent chorus of oohs and aahs from his subjects as they see their negative plate transform into a sepia-hued positive they can take home—a moment of magic he likes to document on his Instagram feed.
Slightly newer camera technology means that subjects don’t have to sit stoically, ramrod straight, for 15 minutes a shot as they did for the original, 19th-century tintypes (although each shot does take 10 to 15 minutes from prep to final result), but Banker’s whole setup and development process is authentically old school—even down to the Darlot Petzval Portrait Lens he uses, which dates to 1880.
“It took me about a year and a half to find that particular lens, and from what I know [of] its journey, it’s from France and has been to Germany, to Australia, then California, and now resides with me here in Colorado,” he says. “They don’t even make glass the same way they did then, so even the way the image is filtered through [the glass] makes it even more unique beyond the tintype process.”
Banker is used to Trading Post regulars wandering into his new studio, surprised to find that Victorian-era camera gear is the only vintage merchandise on premises, but he’s made some new customers in the process. “A couple stopped in this summer looking for the antique shop, and they ended up sitting for a whole session,” he recalls. “The framer they used in Montrose even called me to say he had never framed anything like it.”
Since each image is authentically one-of-a-kind, it’s likely he never will again, either.
1031 Main St, Minturn, 970-688-5524; revivalphotographic.com