Stepping Back in Time in Bentonville, NC
I was working on a story for the North Carolina Travel Guide about the 150th Anniversary of the start of the Civil War in 2011. The war raged from 1861-1865. For five years starting in 2011, various sites around North Carolina will be acknowledging this mark with historic battles that fall on that 150th date.
As I wandered about the tents set up at the 145th Battle of Bentonville, in Bentonville, NC, I came across Bob Szabo. He’s crouched under a black cloth and carefully focusing on his subjects. He then disappears into his little portable darkroom to sensitize the photographic plate. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think he was an NFL referee huddling under the hood of an instant replay booth.m
He reemerges and gives final instructions to his subjects before removing the lens cap from the camera. The soldiers sit stone faced, trying not to move a muscle as Bob counts to four and captures their image in the large wooden box set atop a tripod.
In this day of digital cameras, it’s rare to see anyone shooting film. But Bob is a rarity himself.
He shoots tintypes, a photographic method that dates back to the mid-1800’s. But then again, his subjects date back to that time period as well. They are reenactors from the 145th Battle of Bentonville.
So to keep up, or back, with the time period, Bob is photographing in the period style of wet-plate photography. It’s called a wet-plate photographic process because collodion is poured over a small sheet of black coated metal (or plate) and exposed before it dries.
I take a few frames of the soldiers over his shoulder before he runs off to develop the picture. He returns with the plate still wet from developing and shows it to his subjects. They’re fascinated with the authentic look of a tintype.
Casually, I look down at the picture being displayed on the back of my camera. I keep it to myself. There’s no way my 21st century camera can compete with one about 150 years old. It’s not even close.
Photo by Todd Bennett. See more of Todd’s photos.