Aug 4, 2006

If I'd been his wife, I'd have run off too

Indoor plumbing is nonnegotiable.
Mr. Coffer, who is one of the few people credited with a recent revival of tintype photography, and who supports himself with the sale of his work and his tintype workshops, does not just make photographs as one did in the 1860’s, he lives, to a large extent, the way one might have in the 1860’s. (In late July, he played host to his sixth annual tintype jamboree, free of cost, for dozens of fellow aficionados.)

He spent seven years on the road with a horse and buggy, and that’s the way he still gets around. He uses an outhouse. He lives in a small log cabin, which he built. The heat in the cabin comes from a wood-burning cast-iron stove, so that everything in the cabin, including Mr. Coffer, has the soft, smoky scent of soot.

One also senses, early on, a low smoldering anger. Mr. Coffer, who, with his suspenders, straw hat, horse and buggy, is frequently mistaken for Amish, is not a mad artist in the woods, but he can be a somewhat cranky one. Asked why subjects in 19th-century photos rarely smiled, he says it is because they were dignified; it is only in recent times that people “feel they have to show their teeth like a used-car salesman.” He is annoyed with the values of modern women — an attitude which is easier to understand once you learn that his wife, after a short time in the cabin, ran off.

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