Music Maker 25: Selections from Timothy Duffy's Blue Muse
For the past several years, Music Maker Relief Foundation co-founder Timothy Duffy (American, born 1963) has created one-of-a-kind direct positive tintype portraits of American roots musicians. Despite the importance of these musicians and the national legacy they represent, most remain little known. Duffy's masterful photographs, shot with a large format camera, celebrate these important creators, custodians, purveyors, and performers of American music. The process he uses-the tintype-is an American innovation dating back to the nineteenth century. It requires coating a metal plate with a wet, syrupy solution that holds light-sensitive chemicals. The plate must then be placed immediately in the camera and exposed to the subject before it dries completely. Much like the improvisational qualities of the music that his subjects play, the best tintypes often result from incidental effects of the process-drying too quickly, oversensitivity, or slight ripples in the surface of the emulsion.
Duffy welcomes these flourishes or nuances that elevate the image beyond the realm of technical achievement. Working in either the studio with powerful lights that help speed up a typically long exposure time, or out in the field with his "wet plate wagon" (a portable darkroom trailer that he pulls with his truck), Duffy creates powerful images of musicians who are living expression of an important cultural legacy.