Funk Zone Photographer Lindsey Ross Remains Timeless
story by Lauren Steele
photography by Jon Levit and Michael George
Photographer Lindsey Ross is a keeper of time, of sorts.
She lives and works in the original—currently gentrifying—artist’s haunt of Santa Barbara, known as the Funk Zone. She specializes in historical photographic processes, namely wet plate collodion and tintypes. She drives a vintage green and white Ford pickup truck, which she bought in Colorado during a powder-skiing film project, and keeps it from sputtering out with a little gumption and help from her friends. She learned to love her craft from her father, David Ross, a photographer and college administrator. Lindsey takes pieces of the past and holds them tight in the present. Each photograph she takes turns a moment into history, but with the twist of truly appearing timeless.
Effervescent, she bounces out of the sliding barn door of a corrugated metal building. It’s her studio, her gallery, her home, and a storage space for the city of Santa Barbara’s water department. There are cans, art supplies, photographs, chemicals, postcards, and clothes strewn about. Up in the hayloft, she has a mattress on the floor. Her craft is her life. As music pumps out of an old stereo somewhere, she adjusts her coveralls, flips her blonde bangs across her forehead, and sets up a small orange tree, white curtain, and old wooden chair as today's makeshift set as the crew of Collective Quarterly artists line up to have their portraits taken.
The photographs she takes have a way of looking ghostly, with blue eyes looking eerie and white, skin looking waxy and polished—but they maintain a structured, layered truth to them, like all the portraits you see taken from the 1800s. To see the present day in these unearthly tones is what makes Ross’s art so alluring. There is no PhotoShop, no retouching, no effects, no tricks. Between a woman, her large format 1915 camera, and her subjects, there is an alternate reality created of what we see every day. “I’m going to count down 3-2-1, and then you just stay still for seven seconds. It’s okay to blink, just don’t move around,” she instructs each subject.
The wetplate photographic process was created in 1850. Ross stays true to the course, preparing a photographic plates by pouring collodion (a jelly-like substance that was created to close surgical wounds) on it, allowing it slightly harden, and dipping the plate in a silver nitrate bath. She uses both metal (tintypes) and glass (ambrotypes) with the process to create different effects. Within minutes of the plate being taken from the large format camera, the shadows of each of us begin to appear like apparitions on the tin, wraithlike. Somehow, we look like dignified ancestors of ourselves. “This process isn’t about the reproduction of beautiful places or things. This is original and mysterious because the process reorders what we associate with time. It’s a different way of imagining life and death.”
As I stare at the tintype she made of me soaking in the bottom of a metal pan in under the dripping faucet of an industrial-sized sink, I wonder what someone would assume about the woman posed, chin up, hair down, slightly parted mouth—if they were to find me trapped in this alloy moment 10 years from now, 10 minutes from now. Would they assume that this is an antique portrait they stumbled across? Would they recognize me if I walked up to them while they were inspecting the casting of my own hardware image? That’s the significance of holding time in your own hands, or in the case of Lindsey Ross, in your own lens.