Iconostatus, celebrates London’s East End through 18 portraits of street youths from a single road in Hackney. Inspired by religious paintings yet completely contemporary, these meticulously hand-painted and gilded life-size portraits show their subjects with a new ‘iconostatus’. By constructing an imaginary, iconographic world, Walter & Zoniel remove their subjects from the negative connotations of street culture and redefine this often misunderstood sector of society. Walter & Zoniel celebrated the local community of the East End by creating portraits of characters as they came across them in the street.
Each one of them is shot onto tin using a their WZBOX.3 giant hand-built camera, then painstakingly hand tinted and gilded.
To create this work, the artists hark back to the wet-plate collodion process and the tintype – a small direct positive photograph on a thin sheet of japanned iron introduced in the mid-19th century as an accessible alternative to their predecessors. Walter & Zoniel’s contemporary tintype portraits are life-sized and produced on black tin.
Their elaborate execution involved a number of varied processes. They first designed and constructed the WZBOX.3, a transportable 8 x 8 foot wooden camera, which also functions as a darkroom for processing the photographs. This series was born during a 3 month residency in London’s East End, Four Corners and supported by Arts Council England. Once the walk-in camera was installed on-site, the artists engaged with potential sitters as they walked by and invited them to have their portraits taken. Each tin plate was hand-coated with collodion, exposed, developed then fixed inside the giant camera.
In the final stage, these unique metal photographs were hand- coloured with multiple layers of acrylic paint then hand-gilded with 24 carat gold leaf. The resulting work bears the marks of its creation – striations, brush strokes and fingerprints – challenging the idea that beauty is synonymous with perfection.