Film remains alive even in the year 2017. Despite living in this digital age, there is a definite yearn for something raw, exposed, even maddening. Something fashioned from scratch possesses a certain bewitchery that lurks within the walls of the dark, giant, brick box in Appleton that is the studio of Justus Poehls.
Poehls, a photographer, teacher, husband and father of four, opened his photography studio in early March, and he quickly received an overwhelming response from clients and fellow photographers alike. His current artistic endeavor involves metal sheets and a myriad of chemicals that when brewed together create a picture reminiscent of something you would find in an attic of an abandoned house built in the 19th century – in the most beautiful way possible.
“Each individual photograph is unique like a painting or sculpture,” Poehls says. “The immediate printed and developed photograph is tangible, and varies across the board. There’s a certain depth to it that can’t necessarily be found in a digital image.”
To create a tintype, Poehls first spins an Edith Piaf record. He then starts with a tin sheet and dips it in different chemicals. Once ready, the metal becomes light sensitive, and is victim to smudges and scratches that all add to the overall effect of the image in the end. The sheet is then placed in Poehls’ camera (one of which is self-built.) The photograph is taken in a completely dark room, and the subject is directly faced with studio lights shut off – for the time being. When the camera goes click, the lights instantly flash bright enough to send you to outer space. Your eyes go wide, and you’re caught in this unusual moment that is documented on the tin sheet. Poehls then immediately develops the photograph, and when all is said and done you’re left with your very own tintype.
“I’m inspired by the raw, unencumbered exposition of self: the face we harbor in the dark – in waiting. I could leave the lights on for people as they sit, fashioning themselves for a portrait, but I’ve found that there’s something that happens, something that people reveal there, waiting in the dark for a picture, that’s irreparably beautiful and uncompromisingly truthful. I hardly set out or expected to be a portrait photographer, but that’s what pushes me on, what invigorates my every effort,” Poehls says.
One of the cameras Poehls uses, was built himself. The camera is, quite literally, a box built around a German Zeppelin lens from World War I. There’s a certain counterculture of photographers who create cameras themselves and building his own camera had been an ambition of Poehls’ for a while. He plans on building a “portable dark box” on his truck where he can set up pop-up sessions across the midwest. He’ll also be incorporating his current projects into wedding and event shoots. Poehls also hopes to start teaching classes on film photography particularly for young, aspiring photographers who would like to delve into the analog world.