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Tintype: Mineola man makes Civil War-era cameras

By GARY EDWARDS East Texas Community Newspapers
March 5, 2011 at 10 p.m.

MINEOLA - While much of the world as we know it is busy looking at the future, Ty Guillory is busy crafting what was, instead of what will be. He uses his woodworking skills to build Civil War-era, wet-plate cameras that produce tintype photographs.

He does that well enough to have caught the attention of TV's "Texas Country Reporter" program that spent much of a day with him not too long ago.

"I can tell each time it airs," he said, because he gets e-mail messages and telephone calls from interested individuals. It doesn't, he said, necessarily translate into more business, but in most cases just conversations.

It wasn't always that way for the Louisiana native. He graduated from McNeese State University in Lake Charles, La. and taught English in schools in that state as well as in East Texas for a few short years before giving way to his personal feelings.

"It drove me nuts," he laughs softly, to be confined to "a set schedule."

He drove an 18-wheeler for a while, turned to cabinet making, worked in a hardware store and other jobs and even turned to substitute teaching, which he found more appealing than, you got it, the set schedule of full-time teaching.

"That was OK," he remembers, while leaning on a workbench in his country setting near Hainesville.

Somewhere in his travels he saw for the first time a tintype photograph and he was struck by the art form enough that he wanted to make one. It was almost that simple.

Of course he didn't know anything about modern darkrooms let alone those used 100 or more years ago so he began to study.

It meant learning the chemistry involved as well as how to create both cameras and darkroom and from there he took his show on the road to Civil War reenactment events and staged gunfighter events, showing off his equipment and taking and selling tintype photographs.

As that became popular and competition for the limited market began to squeeze his financial opportunities he remembers saying to himself, "If I can't beat them, I'll supply them" and thus Guillory, 35, turned from the photography end of the business to the creation of tintype cameras.

He took his century-old skills and put his creations on a very modern Internet. His first camera sold for $600 and his second for $1,400 "and I realized I had something going," he said.

He's built 30 cameras during the past two years and three of those were "monsters," he said. The largest produces tintypes on 20 X 24 plates and is five feet long. That particular camera went to a customer who takes pictures for National Geographic Magazine. The other two are smaller, creating 12-by-15-inch plates, which went to customers in California and Germany. Currently he is working on a camera for a customer in Sweden.

"The world is my market place - unless UPS says they can't go there," Guillory said.

There are those places, some in Europe, where he said concern for the safety of the product overwhelms the urge to do business. Sometimes, he said, customs agents in some countries have been known to "tear into" packages of value and they simply disappear. So he avoids those parts of the planet.

"It's not a money thing," Guillory says as he pauses. He likes the freedom of working on his schedule and with wood.

Then, borrowing a page from industrialist Henry Ford, who once said his customers could buy his Ford in any color they wanted to as long as it was black, Guillory said he produces his cameras in any type of wood his customers want, "as long as it's cherry wood."

He smiles. He can work in his shop that he built. Work at the beautifully crafted benches he also created. He can do all that while watching his young son Kyle playing nearby.

Horses graze in a meadow just beside the house and he literally lives at the end of a paved road. Miss his driveway and you are on pure dirt road, kicking up dust while heading into the nearby forest.

It's peaceful and quiet and if he has his portable darkroom set up and his tintype camera nearby you can almost visualize the Civil War troops camped out in the meadow waiting to have their pictures taken.



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