Here & There With...Vanessa Maestri Wagner of Armadillo Tintype

Vanessa pictured with her dog, Lucy, in our Pantai folding rattan chair
 This is the first in an ongoing series we're calling "Here & There With." We'll sit down and chat with womxn artists, designers, environmentalists, slow-living enthusiasts, creatives, and any movers-and-shakers who we find inspiring.


We're excited to kick things off with one of our dearest friends, Vanessa Maestri of Armadillo Tintype.  She just so happens to be one of the most kind, creative, effortlessly cool , and talented people we know - aren't we lucky!

Over the last several years she has been developing her skill and talent as a Tintypist.  Applying her craft in different forms, including natural landscapes and portraiture, Vanessa captures images that are bold and striking, yet stripped down in a way that feels vulnerable and raw. 

It is a process that requires a lot of creativity and vision, but one that also demands knowledge of the chemical components involved in that they must be tailored to the lighting and any other external variables that might effect the creation of the image.

We don't always think of science and creativity going hand-in-hand, but this process is truly representative of that. 

And in a click-bait culture that feeds off instant gratification, it is refreshing to see artists practicing crafts that are slow, deliberate, and intentional. 

Continue reading below for our interview with Vanessa...

tin type photo of man carrying a vessel


Give us some background about yourself and how and why you were drawn to Tintype Photography?

hi! I’m Vanessa, Photo enthusiast turned Part-Time Tintypist, a historic photographic process circa the mid 19th century. It’s completely hand-made and filled with science and history!

For us newbs – what is tintype and can you explain the process in basic terms? 

Tintype, or its technical process name, Wet Plate Collodion, is a wet chemical process combining an aluminum plate with silver and a mixture of salts which will render different tones on the plate to create an image.  It’s one of the earliest forms of photography.
What’s your favorite part of the process?

After the plate is developed, it registers as a negative. I use a basic photographic fixer to flip the image back into a positive which causes a smokiness in the plate followed by a short period of the latent image appearing like magic.  I’ll never get sick of it. 
I feel like people are really excited when they’re getting a tintype taken… Myself included. in your experience working with folks who come to you for portraits, what do you think draws them there or excites them the most about it?

I think it’s a combination of curiosity and digital fatigue. 

We are bombarded with images daily through our televisions, computers, and social media- most of which will probably exist in our consciousness for seconds if at all- most of my clients are eager to slow down and be present in creating a tangible image collaboratively that they know they can have for their lifetime.  It’s pretty special. 


tin type photograph of young child

 What does your personal creative process look like and from where do you draw your inspiration?

I’m obsessed with artist and craftsman process.

Watching other people’s process when they work on something they are passionate about is a real spark for me and what I’m most interested in documenting and capturing through my work currently.   

Do you have any muses?

 I truly feel like every person who sits for me becomes my muse in some way.  I fall a little in love with all my subjects. 

 What else is going on? How you feeling lately give the current climate of the world and our country?

 It pains me to see us try to put a bandage on the issues we are facing out of fear instead of acknowledging the fact that we need to make real changes to alter the trajectory of the most pressing issues we face as Americans and humans.  

It’s strange to say because I know the pandemic has and will continue to cause more turmoil but on the bright side of things I’ve seen so many friends and neighbors fall into themselves in a way that wouldn’t have been possible without facing the challenges we are.  Some are realizing their true passions or that spending time with their families is more important than a two hour commute to work,  etc and that’s a great thing. 

I really hope that if nothing else we can slow down, show some tenderness to others and Mother Earth.

What do you do to chill out and find some peace during these stressful times?

Dog snuggles are the ultimate de-stressor!  I’ve also been working on a newish studio that’s been taking up a lot of my time but is a great tune-out-the-world tool. 
Who are you listening to these days?

T-Rex, B52’s, Tears For Fears and Blondie have been on heavy rotation recently. 
Reading any books?

As a New Jerseyan,  it’s only fitting (and a little embarrassing) that I’m reading Born To Run. 

 I also have been trying to read/learn more about Gentrification and Housing, one of the biggest perpetuators of systemic racism.
Any favorite artists, designers, authors, or brands that have been inspiring you lately?

So many!  The late Francesca Woodman

The late Eiko Ishioka’s dramatic costume work will forever be my mood muse. 

There are about a dozen other female tintypists practicing that inspire me every day and prove the feminine gaze is real and important especially in a photographic context. 

Iris Van Herpen is blowing my mind and bringing fashion to such a conceptual place my brain might actually explode (See the Hypnosis show for proof). 

From a fun, attainable, level I’ve been very into Holiday the Label out of Australia. It’s sunshine on a cloudy day. 
Any trips in mind for once it’s safe to travel again?

As I write this, I am waiting for a call on a small used RV I’m hoping to purchase.  If it works out, I hope to cruise around America a bit.
Want to move with me to the jungle?

Yes, if we can drive there?!
What’s ahead for Armadillo Tintype --- any cool projects you have in mind ?

Armadillo is in constant flux. 

I balance it with a full-time job so my projects always seem to ebb and flow depending on life and that’s okay.  I always find time for it and it’s always there for me when I’m ready to jump back in. 

Where can folks find you to see your work and book a session?

Instagram is best as I’m an analog girl in a digital world and I rarely update my website. 

I feel like it’s also important for me to share that none of my work is scanned and are often pretty lo-fi. 

It’s best in it’s true tangible form and I’m sticking to it.  Images there are just to share the projects and people I’ve been working with. 


Vanessa works from her studio in Asbury Park, NJ and around the Northeast.
To see more of her work, or to inquire about booking a sitting, please visit her here. 


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