This month, Dreamland Margate will open to the public again for the first time in more than a decade. Photographer Rob Ball documented Britain’s oldest amusement park in the years leading up to its renovation. Ahead of a forthcoming exhibition at The Photographers’ Gallery and a book published by Dewi Lewis, Ball talks about the project.
“Prior to that people had more formal daguerreotypes made, where they would have to go to studios and sit for a long time… This was something they could have fun with – it was seen as light, as opposed to high art. You won’t find a tintypist written about in the academic history of photography or historical books. It’s always the people who were using the same process, but on glass, and making beautiful albumen prints. Tintypists were seen as street hawkers on the boardwalks.”
This association is part of the attraction. Ball’s experiments with the process date back five years to a week’s residency at The Old Lookout Gallery, which he directs in his role as a senior lecturer in photography at Canterbury Christchurch University. The technique’s potential for public engagement was clear straight away.
“There’s that element in the process where you see the plate fix – where it goes from a blueish negative to a rich, black positive. People were fascinated by it and I was able to do it in full view.” Under the banner of Obsolete Studios, Ball puts on interactive, performance-based events, inspired by the tintypists of the past. In July, he’ll be running a pop-up tintype portrait studio, a hit at this year’s Format Festival, in a yurt outside The Photographers’ Gallery.