Ryan Lee is a tintype photographer and the first person to offer a wet plate studio portrait service in Singapore. He self-learned his craft back in 2013 by studying books and all the information on the historic photo process he could get his hands on.
Fast-forward 10 years and Ryan has not only renewed the interest in the one of a kind process, doling out many a commemorative portrait for newly weds, but he's also let the medium carry him further into the realm of experimental photography. Most recently he has tested out the LomoGraflok 4×5 Instant Back.
Hi Ryan, please tell us about yourself.
I’m Ryan Lee, founder of Hip Xiong Photo Studio, Singapore’s first and only wet plate portrait Studio. I am into all things analogue, especially photography. I enjoy doing street photography when not doing portraits in the studio.
How did you get into tintype/wet plate photography? And who are your customers?
I first discovered tintype photography back in 2013 when I was looking for a unique way to commemorate my marriage. I was intrigued by the quality and characteristics of the images produced through the process and I really wanted a tintype done. However I couldn’t find any wet plate photographers in Singapore, let alone the region, to do one for me and I told myself that if I ever had the chance I would open a wet plate studio. I believed that since I wanted it so badly there ought to be like-minded people who wanted it too. Sure enough, most of my customers seek out a tintype to commemorate an important milestone in their life.
There are fewer than 1000 wet plate collodion artists practicing around the world. How long did it take you from opening the first book on the process to making your first photo?
To be honest, I struggle to even name a hundred. The knowledge is pretty open source and understanding the theory was easy for me as I had a background in film production. I would say it took me roughly a few months from theory to practical application. That being said, it’s by no means a straightforward process and I am still learning from every plate that I do!
It’s not just about taking a photo, it’s also about being inspired by the subject, being inspired by natural light, showcasing human emotion, creating art etc. How have you evolved as a wet plate artist and how has the process enabled you to grow?
The process has a lot of limitations and one of the biggest limitations would be the medium’s lack of sensitivity to light. And because of that there are trade-offs like a longer exposure or a wider aperture with very shallow depth of field. I have learned to embrace those limitations as they allow me to achieve a look that is hard to replicate with any other forms of photography. This process will test your patience – it has definitely made me more patient as a person. Also, I have become very good at troubleshooting and solving issues in general.
What were your first impressions of setting up and using the LomoGraflok?
First impressions were that the setup was pretty straightforward. It was fun to break away from my day-to-day workflow and try something new! It takes advantage of a readily available medium, which is the Instax Wide, and uses AA batteries, which are also very readily available. I was pretty bummed that large format peel apart film is no longer in production, so to design a product around the biggest instant film in the market right now is a brilliant idea.
How would you compare the results and experience of using the LomoGraflok to taking a more traditional large format photograph?
It is instant! That’s the beauty of it. It adapts to a camera that I am already familiar with so I can get up and running very quickly. And because I don’t need to wait for the images to be processed like traditional large format photography, I can make changes and tweaks on the fly which allows me to be more experimental with my work.
Which camera did you use the LomoGraflok Instant Back with?
The Intrepid 4x5.
What’s coming up on the horizon for you in terms of new projects?
I always enjoy experimenting with alternative photographic processes so that will not change. I am only just starting to document them now with my YouTube channel, but I haven’t been diligent in creating content in that space. Hopefully that will change next year.
Do you have any pointers for someone using the LomoGraflok for the first time?
Don’t forget to use the focusing shim/spacer.
Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to start something new like you dared to do?
If something you want so bad is not available to you then chances are there are like-minded people who would want the same thing as well. See that as an opportunity and act on it.