A95_249.jpg Unknown mother and child (about 1853-1900). Collection of Puke Ariki (A95.249).

Before the days of photo booths, Polaroids and iPhones, photographs were a precious commodity. The first generally available fixed photographic processes, such as the daguerreotype and the ambrotype, were expensive and difficult to produce. However, in 1853 the tintype process was invented in France, which made photography much more accessible to the masses.

Printed on a thin piece of black enamelled iron, tintypes were cheap, simple and quick to prepare. They were also portable and – because they didn't use glass as an image support or protective cover – they weren't breakable.

This tintype, which has been folded in four, shows the durability of the process. Despite the folds in the iron and rusting under the image surface, the photograph is still evocatively clear. It is easy to imagine it tucked into the pocket of this woman's husband, just as we would slip a picture of a loved one into our wallets or store them on our devices today.

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