Dianne Yudelson has painted her bird photos to look like antique tintypes
The style reminds her of her childhood, when she would look at tintypes of her ancestors
Growing up in California, Dianne Yudelson watched the swallows make their yearly spring migration to the Mission San Juan Capistrano. The birds would build little clay nests under the eaves of the Great Stone Church and fly past Yudelson’s bedroom window.
The annual flight of the swallows instilled in Yudelson a lifelong fascination of birds. In her photo series “Antique Aviary,” she brings intimate stills of California birds in the form of heirloom-style tintypes.
A healthy dose of nostalgia brought about the idea for the series.
“I was asked to submit an image to a museum that was having a bird exhibit,” said Yudelson, an avid birdwatcher and wildlife enthusiast. “And I was going through my many, many images of birds when an email popped up from my sister. She had sent me a scan of one of my grandmother’s tintypes because she knew that I love them.”
The photographer reminisces about her childhood days spent on her grandmother’s porch pouring through tintypes of her great-grandmother and ancestors. These family photos and the memory of spending time with her grandparents stirs a picture of a simpler life in Yudelson.
“I grew up in a family of four children, and when I went to my grandmother’s house, that’s when I felt more like me,” Yudelson said. “We would sit on the porch and sing songs and watch the birds and just do the kind of stuff I love.”
Seeing the tintypes from her sister, Yudelson decided to give the antique treatment to her bird photos. “Those two things went together, and the next day I did my first four images,” she said.
Because of the harsh chemicals used in making authentic tintypes, Yudelson used other techniques to give the photos the antique feel.
Starting with a black-and-white photo, she would use oil-based paints, acrylics or watercolors. For some, she used “digital painting media to help enhance the visual effect of a tintype.”
Yudelson began taking photos for the series in 2009, using both analog and digital cameras. She found many of the birds while driving around her hometown in Pleasanton, California.
“If I’m driving down the freeway and I see (a bird) out of the corner of my eye, I will detour or stall or sit and wait in a ditch,” she said.
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The photographer explained that wildlife photography is often a time game. You need patience and willingness to wait for the right moment when the animal connects with you.
“With the waldrapp ibis, I was following him and taking his picture every few minutes,” Yudelson said. “And finally he just gave me that look. He put all his feathers up and looked over at me like, ‘Seriously, what are you doing?’ “
She kept many of the shots close-up and centered on the birds because she felt it expressed her personal connection with them. Taking her time, she wanted to capture the right moment.
Yudelson has won a number of awards for the series, but beyond her successes she hopes to use the images as a way to bring awareness to the effects of climate change on wildlife populations. She said that because these animals live on nature’s cues, with climate change they lose track of where to breed and eat.
“I used to be able to go out to the national parks and they were filled with birds,” Yudelson said of her hikes at Yosemite National Park and other areas in California. “Now you have to look around, you sit and wait. Where are they?”