Kevin Banker’s old-timey photographs and new studio bring a slice of historic art to Main Street Minturn
'It’s a keepsake. It’s not a digital photograph that will get tossed out, or sit on your computer or your phone that you’ll never post'
It took Kevin Banker two years to refine tintype photography, and now he’s a bona fide Vail Valley Instagram celebrity with his haunting, 19th century-style portraits.
Banker recently opened Revival Photographic, an old-timey portrait studio in the old Battle Mountain Trading Post off Main Street in downtown Minturn. In an age of instantaneous and ubiquitous photography — thanks to improved phone camera technology — tintype photography and the new studio give Banker the opportunity to focus on the basic principles of the art form he’s loved for more than 20 years. He likes making art with more depth than a few social media likes.
“It’s a keepsake. It’s not a digital photograph that will get tossed out, or sit on your computer or your phone that you’ll never post. This is a wall hang,” he said.
Tintype photography — images printed on thin slates of metal — gained popularity in the 1860s and 1870s as an improvement on early photographic processes. The first commercial photographs, daguerrotypes, were images printed on silvered copper plate. Long exposure times required subjects to sit completely still for upwards of 60 seconds. But with the improved tintype technology, subjects didn’t have to sit for quite so long, and the photographer could have the image developed and ready for the subject in 10 to 15 minutes.
Tintypes also cost much less than daguerrotypes, making photography a more accessible hobby. They are sometimes referred to as wet plates because the images are created using the wet plate collodion chemical process. Banker’s subjects get to watch the very end of the developing process, when he washes off the developer and the negative image turns into a positive.
“That’s the magic right there,” he said.
Part of what inspired Banker to pursue tintype photography was the back-to-basics approach. Banker has also worked as a freelance photographer and videographer for 16 years, shooting architecture, editorial and advertisements for clients across the country and the world. With digital photography, he sometimes felt caught up in digital-age immediacy.
“As I became a photographer, everyone wanted everything so fast,” Banker said. “And this really brought me back to the patience and craft of making a photo again, rather than just shooting a digital image.”
At first, he practiced developing wet plates in the apartment where he and his girlfriend live. But when his chemicals took over their apartment, he realized he needed real studio space.
The old Battle Mountain Trading Post, built in 1946, used to be a curio shop owned by Bill Reis. He had put the building up for sale, and a real estate company was interested in buying the property, tearing down the historic building and putting up condos. Reis decided to put it up for rent instead, but most potential buyers wanted to do significant remodeling that would remove original features like the wood-paneled walls and the stately log countertop.
Banker approached Reis and said all he wanted to do was paint the two garage bays white, add a darkroom in the back, and leave the rest as-is. Reis drafted a lease, Banker signed it, and got to work on his passion project. He was the first person that Banker photographed in his new space.
He bought the large, collapsible-aperture tintype camera from Chamonix, a company that still makes large-format cameras. The lens he uses is a French Darlot Petzval Portrait from 1880, and would have been actually used by 19th century photographers. He set up full strobe lighting, which allows subjects to sit for less time than they would normally have to in a tintype session. Thanks to the window-paned garage doors, Banker also has the ability to shoot with daylight.
Aside from the portrait studio, Banker wants to use Revival Photographic to create a Minturn arts district. He wants to turn the second garage bay into a collaborative arts space where local artists can come and work with other creatives. He plans on offering continuing-education art classes. He’s working with the town of Minturn to get a beer and wine license to host happy hours and events for guests — locals, tourists, campers and bikers — to hang out and chill. He’s planning on building a patio outside and turning the old wooden counter into a bar.
“One, I have parking, and that’s really hard,” he joked. “We can get a decent amount of people in here so we could actually have a good showing.”
Portraits at Revival Photographic come in tiered pricing options, based on what size prints he’s developing for clients. Three 4-by-5 prints go for $200, three 5-by-7s go for $350 and one 8-by-10 goes for $500. He also offers â la carte and specialty sessions, like boudoir or maternity shoots. Coming soon, he’ll offer ambrotypes — photos printed on glass — which come with a base 16-by-20 print, with additional add-ons. He also wants to sell 11-by-14 metal plates in the near future.
This is how the wet plate collodion process works
- First, collodion is poured over the metal plate in the darkroom.
- The plate is then transferred to a silver nitrate bath, where it sits for three minutes. The silver nitrate reacting with the collodion makes the plate light-sensitive.
- The photographer brings the metal plate out to the studio and takes the photo.
- Then, the plate is brought back into the darkroom, where it sits in developer chemicals for 10-15 seconds.
- The plate gets a quick water bath to wash off the developer before going into the fixer and becoming a positive image.
Entertainment Editor Casey Russell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.