In his line of work, Ryan Lee has to exercise extra caution. He uses dangerous chemicals like silver nitrate, which can stain the skin and cause burns when handled incorrectly. He also operates light sources so powerful, they can inflict serious damage if he isn't careful.
But Ryan remains unfazed at these conditions, and even looks forward to his job as a photographer. Clearly, he isn’t a regular shutterbug – to capture his subjects, Ryan eschews digital for an analogue method, and shoots using one the world’s oldest image-making techniques: wet-plate photography.
Popular in the 1850s, the process involves pouring chemicals onto a blackened plate. Once wet, these light-sensitive panels need to be quickly exposed to an image and processed. The result: a rustic, 19th century-style tintype.
In the modern age of digital photography, this arduous, time-consuming image-making method is fast losing relevance. Ryan believes that his newly opened space, Hip Xiong Photo Studio, could well be the only one left in Singapore that dabbles in the wet-plate process.
“It’s like the Polaroid of the 1850s,” says Ryan. Only these images can weather the test of time, and last hundreds of years. “People get to see the picture develop right before their eyes … and I kind of liked that idea.”