Tintype: Mineola man makes Civil War-era cameras
MINEOLA — While much of the world as we know it is busy looking at the future, Ty Guillory is busy crafting what was, instead of what will be. He uses his woodworking skills to build Civil War-era, wet-plate cameras that produce tintype photographs.
It meant learning the chemistry involved as well as how to create both cameras and darkroom and from there he took his show on the road to Civil War reenactment events and staged gunfighter events, showing off his equipment and taking and selling tintype photographs.
As that became popular and competition for the limited market began to squeeze his financial opportunities he remembers saying to himself, “If I can’t beat them, I’ll supply them” and thus Guillory, 35, turned from the photography end of the business to the creation of tintype cameras.
He took his century-old skills and put his creations on a very modern Internet. His first camera sold for $600 and his second for $1,400 “and I realized I had something going,” he said.
He’s built 30 cameras during the past two years and three of those were “monsters,” he said. The largest produces tintypes on 20 X 24 plates and is five feet long. That particular camera went to a customer who takes pictures for National Geographic Magazine. The other two are smaller, creating 12-by-15-inch plates, which went to customers in California and Germany. Currently he is working on a camera for a customer in Sweden.
“The world is my market place — unless UPS says they can’t go there,” Guillory said.
There are those places, some in Europe, where he said concern for the safety of the product overwhelms the urge to do business. Sometimes, he said, customs agents in some countries have been known to “tear into” packages of value and they simply disappear. So he avoids those parts of the planet.
“It’s not a money thing,” Guillory says as he pauses. He likes the freedom of working on his schedule and with wood.
Then, borrowing a page from industrialist Henry Ford, who once said his customers could buy his Ford in any color they wanted to as long as it was black, Guillory said he produces his cameras in any type of wood his customers want, “as long as it’s cherry wood.”