Tintypes from Afghanistan by Ed Drew

We love the story of Ed Drew. The Brooklyn-born serves in the California Air National Guard as a defensive heavy weapons and tactics specialist on Combat Search and Rescue special operations helicopters. He has moved from New York City and currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Drew, beside his work for the Air Nation Guard attends San Francisco Art Institute full time, pursuing a BFA in Sculpture with a minor in Photography. The contrast of attending art school and his military job gives him a unique perspective and interesting opportunities to create work. His most recent body of work focuses on USAF combat search and rescue.

This past April Ed Drew was deployed to the highly troublesome Helmand Province in Afghanistan. During his deployment, which lasted through June, the artist created tintypes of the men and women he worked with, very likely to be the first tintypes made in a combat zone since the Civil War.

A tintype is a photograph made by creating a direct positive on a sheet of iron metal that is blackened by painting, lacquering or enamelling and is used as a support for a collodion photographic emulsion. The technique was first used at the end of the 19th century. In those times photographers usually worked outside at fairs, carnivals or other public events as the support of the tintype is resilient and does not need drying, photographs could be produced only a few minutes after the picture was taken.

With modern techniques much more convenient Drew made the aesthetic choice to use the historical technique in Afghanistan with the attached risks clear in mind. “To do this process in a war, let alone a foreign war, is historically significant,” states Drew in the New Yorker“The process of wet-plate tintypes is challenging enough with perfect conditions and the availability of chemicals. In a foreign war, with the stresses of combat, lack of basic materials, drying desert air, and the wind and dust of Afghanistan, it was quite a challenge.” What was most important for the father of two is that he: “could show the humanity of war in the eyes of airmen I fly combat missions with.”

The results are as aesthetically appealing as they have significant historical value.