Reproductions of select tintype portraits by Timothy Duffy are on view on the Ruby’s front windows and on the first floor (by the film theater). 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.
This exhibit of selected works from Duffy’s Blue Muse collection is co-sponsored by Music Maker Relief Foundation, Duke Performances, and Duke Arts in conjunction with Duke Performances’ Music Maker 25 series, Dec 4–8, at The Fruit in downtown Durham. Music Maker 25 is made possible, in part, with support from the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation and the North Carolina Arts Council, a division of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, and it is part of the Smithsonian’s Year of Music.
Curated by Joel Peter Johnson (Duke Performances).
For 25 years, Music Maker Relief Foundation — a groundbreaking nonprofit based in Hillsborough, NC — has ensured that the voices of hundreds of extraordinary, often unheralded, blues and folk musicians are not silenced by poverty or time
Timothy Duffy visits the Ruby to share his tintype photography process—and make some collaborative prints. Several of his portraits are on view in (and on!) the Ruby in Music Maker 25: Selections from Timothy Duffy’s Blue Muse.