AMERICAN TINTYPE – Hanan Townshend

Original Review by Alan RogersAmerican Tintype

American Tintype is a short, 5-minute documentary film from 2012. Directed by filmmaker Matt Morris, the film focuses on the work of photographer Harry Taylor who discovered a passion for tintype photography after the loss of a close family member. Taylor is engaging film subject and over the course of the 5 minutes or so we hear how he became interested in this 150-year-old craft, are given a glimpse of the photographic process itself and also see a number beautiful and unique examples of his work. As far as who Morris could use to provide the score he was looking for, Hanan Townshend was the composer of choice. Hearing a particularly striking piece of music in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life (2011), Morris became aware of the music of Hanan Townshend and thought that his style would suit the tone of his own film. 

I first became aware of New Zealand-born composer Hanan Townshend’s music with his score for Malick’s To The Wonder (2013). Townshend’s score for To The Wonder sets a mood for the drama, creating a rather dark soundscape that envelopes the listener. Townshend’s music for American Tintype mirrors his score for To The Wonder in that he creates a mood piece, a soundscape. But this time, by careful orchestration (acoustic guitar, piano, double base and wordless vocals) he creates a lighter musical setting, a rural hideaway where a level of peace dominates. Although there is only a single cue making up the score, Townshend succeeds in fashioning specific sections with distinct tones by varying how prominent each musical instrument is within the score at specific times. For example, acoustic guitar is the first main instrument heard and this gives a sense of rural life, seemingly an important requirement for Taylor’s work. And towards the end of the cue, waif-like wordless vocals appear to mirror the photographer’s expression of the passion for tintype photography. Townshend is even able to synchronise the double bass with a short “gallery showing” of portrait photographs.

Morris’ short film is an engaging piece of work that is both beautiful to look at as well as being informative. Townshend’s lovely score is a significant addition to the film, adding another dimension and helping Morris to flesh out details that can only be touched on briefly in a 5-minute film. Taylor himself conveys the love and passion he has for tintype photography and Townshend’s score portrays a sense of peace and contentment in an artist who, through personal tragedy, has discovered a fulfilling artform that is both challenging and rewarding.

Hanan Townshend’s score for American Tintype can be listened to in full and purchased at Bandcamp. Matt Morris’ film can be viewed HERE.

Rating: ***

  1. American Tintype (4:11)

Running Time: 4:11

Hanan Townshend (2012)



  1. I felt that a brief explanation about how the tintype process works would have been helpful to the film. The music wasn’t much in my opinion but did work with the documentary.

    • An explanation of the process itself would certainly help understand how it all works and how tintype photography is very much a complex artform. But, I feel that the film is more about the artist’s passion for the subject. The process itself is covered to some extent by the montage of Taylor preparing the chemicals and plate and how he actually takes the photos. And this montage shows some of the process but from the point of view of the photographer almost lovingly preparing the various stages.

      • Don’t you wonder why it takes 20 seconds to expose? I see your point that it is more about his photography. It could have just as easily been regular film. I have an 8×10 camera like he was working with. At one time in my life I did beautiful work with it but could only make contact prints due to the enlargement process. A contact print would translate into an 8×10 photograph. My daughter was the subject often.

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