This year California Air National Guardsman Ed Drew got called to the Helmand Province in Afghanistan to serve a three month tour of duty. A couple months before, his second son was born and Drew thought about his own mortality. If he was killed in duty, what could he leave for his son to remember him by? There was a chance this could happen considering Drew was an aerial gunner, manning a 50-caliber machine gun aboard an HH60-Pave Hawk search and rescue chopper. Drew decided to bring a large format Speed Graphic camera to shoot portraits of his fellow airman with the goal of capturing their humanity. And if he unexpectedly got killed, his son could see his work and know who he served with and how they knew him.
The portraits he shot would be developed on tintypes; which was a technique used to make battlefield images during the civil war. It is thought that these are the first tintypes produced in a war zone since that era. The process requires the tin plates to be covered with various chemicals in cool, dark space before and after the exposure. As Drew tells the New York Daily News, “You’re basically making a photo from scratch. You don’t have a roll of film made for you to just stick in a camera. In the heat, my chemicals would dry really fast, if I miss a step or make a mistake, the photo is destroyed.”
Each exposure lasted between six to ten seconds, which meant that Drew’s subjects had to remain completely still for the shot. Each image took about 40 minutes to create and his personal favorite is of his co-pilot sitting with his helmet on his knee, in front of the American flag. Drew served from March until late June this year and was happy to reunite with his family. Regarding the portraits Drew says:
“My father died at a young age. I never knew him, I only have photos. If I got killed, these photos will tell my son who the people were that dragged my body from the helicopter, or that saw me last. I thought it was important that my son should know these people. That’s what it was like in the Civil War. The images told the soldiers’ families, ‘This is me. This is who I am.’”
An old Tintype photo showing President Abraham Lincoln and civil war soldiers:
via NY Daily