Introducing C.J. Harker our resident Tin Type Photographer

We are excited to announce the return of local artist/photographer, and shop community favorite, CJ Harker on February 14th and 15th!

CJ will be setting up his pop-up studio in Moon + Arrow for two days of capturing and making beautiful portraits through the Wet Plate Collodion process. This historical process is like watching magic; leaving you with a tangible, beautiful photographic heirloom printed on tin. The perfect Valentine's day activity to share with your loved one or a special treat for yourself!

We sat down with C.J. to learn more about his photography, the craft of Tin Type portraits and what it is like living and working as an artist in Philadelphia.


What is your background in photography? 

Skateboarding came first, with photography trailing closely behind. As a teenager, both activities provided me with lawless freedom. There were no rulebooks or guidelines, no homework. No one to tell me how to ride or how to shoot. Just good times with the homies.

Eventually, I went to school for photography in order to expand my practice and gain experience in the darkroom. After a few semesters at Mercer County Community College, I transferred to The University of The Arts to complete my BFA.

Will you describe what the wet plate collodion process is? How did you learn about the wet plate collodion process?

Wet plate collodion is one of the earliest photographic processes, invented by Frederick Scott Archer in 1851. On glass, it can be used to make negatives for producing multiple prints. When a black enameled metal is used, with slight modifications to the chemistry, unique images directly from the camera are possible. These in-camera positive images are called tintypes.

At UArts, I was introduced to the idea of the process when we experimented with a modern variant. My instructor, Alida Fish, suggested I check out Peters Valley Craft school and I cannot thank her enough for it. That place and the people I met there have changed my life in some amazing ways. I signed on as a darkroom assistant over summer break and one of the classes I helped with was a wet plate collodion workshop. After 5 days of learning about the process and playing with it around the Delaware Water Gap national park, I was hooked.

How are tintype portraits different than other analog photography processes?

Tintypes were the first “instant” photograph, made from scratch and finished in just a few minutes. Because the image is carried on a metal plate, as opposed to paper or glass, they are also extremely durable. They are finished with a coat of varnish and/or shellac which makes the tintype one of the most archival types of photographs. Untarnished examples well over 100 years old are not difficult to come by.

What is it like working and living as an artist in Philadelphia?

Philly is the only major metro I’ve ever lived in but I like the small-town city vibe. It’s easy to get stuck in your neighborhood but nothing really feels too far away or out of reach.

Working as an artist anywhere is certainly an individual journey and very much what you want to make of it. Personally I try to cast a wide net. I’ve always loved photography so rather than take on work that would suck the joy out of it for me, I look for other ways to stay busy between choice photo gigs. I’ve been making things out of wood for about as long as I’ve been making photographs and in recent years have been trying to work more with concrete and metal. To that end, I got myself licensed with the city and officially started my own general contracting business this year.

What are you working on now in your personal photography practice? 

I’ve been shooting when the mood strikes, stacking up film to be developed and making a to-do list. The craft of photography has always interested me but if you aren’t on an educational track or enrolled in a program of some sort it is very difficult to access a quality workspace. Hence The Halide Project’s community darkroom! Once our facilities are online I definitely plan on steering back in that direction to crank out some prints and learn a new trick or two.

Will you tell us a little bit more about your photography with Skate Jawn? 

Skate Jawn has and always will be a labor of love for all involved. A friend had the idea to publish a bi-monthly magazine covering whatever we thought was cool in and around skateboarding and give it away for free. There was no doubt that I was down when asked to contribute. I had been shooting photos of my friends skateboarding for a long time, so having a consistent outlet for that stuff was super exciting. Still is! I recently landed the milestone issue 50 cover with a photo of my homie that I’ve been skating with for well over a decade. Stoked to say the very least.

Will you tell us a little bit more about the Halide Project? What is your role? 

The Halide Project is a volunteer-run, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to the continued practice and appreciation of traditional and historic photographic processes. We have a beautiful photography gallery in the River Wards neighborhood where we hold several annual exhibits. We hold workshops, lectures, and critiques among other free and paid events. We are also currently building a community darkroom scheduled to open this spring!

I am on the board of directors but we are a very small group so that title encompasses a lot more than might be typical of a larger organization. Primarily I guess you could say I’m the hands-on guy. Anything that needs to be picked up, put down, made, modified, installed or repaired– I’m on it.

Visit this link to reserve your portrait slot with C.J. this February! 

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