Ed Drew discovered his passion for art while on a tour of duty with the U.S. Air Force at Yokota Air Base near Tokyo in 2001, inspired by Japanese art and cultural esthetics. In 2008, Drew returned to America after a stint living in Germany and enlisted in the Air National Guard. He currently attends the San Francisco Art Institute, while also serving in the California Air National Guard as an Aerial Gunner, work that has taken him to Afghanistan.
Drew has been working with tintype photography for about a year. “The idea came about from wanting to show who the people are that I work with in Afghanistan,” Drew told PDN via email. “It became a real idea to me that if I were killed, my son would have no living memory of who I was… I wanted him to intimately see these people through the photographs I made. I felt the tintype process really highlighted their humanity.” Drew makes wet plate tintypes – where a negative image is produced on a thin iron plate, lacquered and then coated with a collodion emulsion—not an easy process for someone in the desert of Afghanistan. “I was lucky enough to be an Aerial Gunner on Combat Search and Rescue helicopters which gave me the space and freedom of time. The difficulty came with being in a desert and the 0% humidity and heat drying out my plates. The plates have to stay wet in order to make a photo. My chemicals were acting weird and I couldn’t get more collodion. It was a one shot deal. It was a task packing my equipment each day an setting it up again the next morning.” Drew’s setup included a Pelican case with a blackout curtain attached to the lid. “I was in a loft space so the ceiling was low and it was cramped and very hot. There was also the fact that I could be called at any moment to fly out on a combat mission for a rescue.”