Studio Visit appears in Sunday editions of The News-Gazette. Here, Melissa Merli visits with photographer Steve Ingram of St. Joseph.
Q: So you used to be a newspaper photographer? Where?
A: I started in Ottawa, and then I moved to Freeport. And my last paper was in Galesburg.
Q: When and why did you get out of the industry?
A: 2004. I had two small kids, and I was a salaried photo editor and wasn't home a lot. My wife and I ended up going into business together and caring for the kids together, and it was a blast.
Q: What kind of business?
A: We had a scrapbook store, and I did photo restoration and had a small store in back for portrait work.
Q: Are you still doing that here?
A: No, the business is gone. I tried to have another studio for a year or so. I did Civil War wet-plate photography full time in 2007. I did 26 events from April to October, traveling the Midwest and making pictures every week at living history events. That was a lot of fun, too.
Q: What do you do now?
A: I work at Kraft Food in Champaign. I'm in the cheese-filling department, and I work on the 2-pound Velveeta line. I help make the pouches and the boxes.
Q: What kind of photography are you doing now?
A: I still do the living history events. I've been doing portrait work, too. I like all kinds of cameras. I use film cameras, digital cameras and, of course, the wet-plate camera.
Q: Is wet-plate the same as tintype?
Q: How does that work?
A: (He gives a long, detailed explanation of the process of preparing metal plates for photographs.) In the 1860s, you could go to a drugstore and buy a box of blank tintype plates. There's no company making them anymore, so you have to make your own.
Q: Is the tintype process you use the same as the one used in the 1800s?
A: Yes. The process was invented in 1851 and was popular through the 1870s.
Q: Didn't you create a book about Champaign firefighters, using the tintype process?
A: Yes, on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I went to the Champaign firehouse — Station 1 downtown. I photographed the firefighters, and then I went back and interviewed them to get their thoughts about being a firefighter and about 9/11 and about what it's like to live in America.
Q: You made small tintypes for the show at the Alley Gallery in Danville.
A: Yes. I'm selling the little 35mm plates inside little metal cases with small mattes around the tintypes.
Q: What kind of subjects?
A: They're all keepsakes, everything from everyday items you see around the house to a few treasured items like coins from the 1940s. My grandparents' house was a speakeasy during Prohibition, so one picture is of a can opener from their house.
Q: How did you get into tintype photography?
A: When I was in Ottawa, we did a story about two Civil War soldiers who were brothers and buried together in a cemetery that the historical society was documenting. And there were just their first names on the gravestone and the unit they were in and the battle in Missionary Ridge, Tenn., that one of the brothers died in. So I used the Internet to find out their last name: Reeder. Later, I realized there were no photographs of Walter and Carvasso Reeder, so I started doing research on the way the soldiers would have had their images taken during the Civil War. I was overwhelmed and thought, "I'm never going to do this." But in the winter of 2002, I built a wet-plate camera. I made my own bellows and plate back. In newspapers, we went digital in 2001. I felt I lost the magic of developing a photograph in a darkroom. That's why I went into tintypes.
Editor's note: "Intimate Treasures," featuring Ingram's tintypes, is on view at the Alley Gallery, 113 N. Vermilion St., Danville. The opening reception will be from 2 to 5 p.m. today. Weather permitting, Ingram will take tintype portraits of people outside today and develop them inside the gallery. He sells the tintypes for $25, $35 and $45, depending on size.