Music Maker Relief Foundation: Tintype Meets Letterpress

Last year, Parklife Press was approached by Music Maker Relief Foundation to design, print and produce picture frames, customized to hold tintype images. You have questions! We know! Let's get into it.

First, a bit about Music Maker. The foundation, founded in 1994 by Tim and Denise Duffy and based in Hillsborough, NC, "was founded to preserve the musical traditions of the South by directly supporting the musicians who make it, ensuring their voices will not be silenced by poverty and time." Music Maker not only helps support Southern roots artists who have fallen on hard times (an excellent goal in and of itself), but also helps provide resources to get them performing and recording again, providing invaluable cultural documentation of Southern musical traditions. Per their website, since their founding, "we have assisted and partnered with over 300 artists, issued over 150 CDs and reached over a million people with live performance in over 40 states and 17 countries around the globe." It's a great organization, so be sure to check out their website and read more about it.

So ... tintypes? Tim Duffy, it turns out, is not only a music historian and philanthropist, but he's also a photographer. And what does a photographer do, when spending time his musical heroes, recording these living legends? He records their images, as well. And what better way to preserve the unique history of these artists, than with an old form of photography that produces one-of-a-kind images that will last hundreds of years? He honored the past, and learned to make tintypes — a photographic process more than a century and a half old. Together with colleague Aaron Greenhood (Music Maker's Artist Services Coordinator and tintype chemist) he produces these portraits, which are given to artists, used as donor gifts, and sold on their website to foundation supporters and music fans. (To learn more about the project, visit Music Maker's tintype page.)

Music Maker wanted a nice way to present these art objects, which are, essentially, 4.5"x 6.5" pieces of sharp-edged metal. Parklife Press designed, printed and assembled the frames, which incorporate Music Maker's logo. The black museum board and black/bronze-y ink are reminiscent of sepia tones, and the hand-crafted nature of letterpress printing itself pairs perfectly with the old-fashioned tin type process. The frame folds out to standing position, and holds the metal sheet securely in place — protected and perfectly positioned.

Each tintype is labeled with a "Music Maker Tin Type" label — which lists the subject, print number, date, photographer and chemist — and is then finished with an official, bright red "Music Maker Tin Type - Hillsborough N.C." stamp. Parklife Press designed both the label and stamp.

Tim, Denise, Aaron and the folks at Music Maker were nice enough to have us out to Hillsborough during one of their tin type shooting days, so we could get a sense of the process and see first-hand what our frames were framing. Below are some photos from that beautiful fall day. Most people have never seen a large-format camera like Tim's — at least in person — and many photographers these days haven't seen darkroom equipment in ages, if ever. (Hence the nostalgic photos of darkroom timers and developer pans!) You guys were so generous; it was a blast. Thanks for letting us be a part of this project.

Photos by Sarah McCarty Arneson