Vanessa Maestri Armadillo

Vanessa Maestri Armadillo


Local weekly paper covering regional news and events gets an interview with artist Vanessa Maestri Armadillo. by Tara Collins AKA Twisted T

One afternoon at Christmastime, I was wandering around the magnificent Jersey Shore Arts Center in Ocean Grove. This building has an incredible story that hopefully we will see printed in this rag one day (hint! hint!). I was admiring the architecture and all the creative businesses that rent studios there. The studios are former classrooms in this Victorian era architectural award-winning former school. When I happened upon the Armadillo Tintype Photography Studio, I needed to know more and reached out to its proprietor, Vanessa Maestri. Vanessa invited me to her studio for a chat, photographed me with her vintage 1900’s camera and then showed me the developing process which was fascinating to watch!

Tell me about your art background? Art School or Self-Taught?  
I am mostly self-taught.  I did one semester at my county college for Photography before I realized that setting was not the right learning environment for me.  I continued working at it on my own with the academic pressure off.

What brought you to create the art that you make?  I found it by accident.
I saw work in this process by another (female) photographer, Joni Sternbach, in a magazine. It was so strikingly different from the photography we are used to seeing. I felt compelled to learn it.  Once I understood how different the process is from traditional photography and also how autonomous it is, I was hooked.  It completely changed my approach to photography and how I see the world.

What is your process with your art making? 

A lot of my ideas are inspired by paintings, cinema and design.  I keep a notebook where I flesh out ideas I want to try and I sketch.  I have a lot of ideas I’ve tried that didn’t end up working out.  I would say 75% of what I work on doesn’t see the light of day!  I try not to get discouraged, it’s all part of creating work with your hands, it’s imperfect.

Wet-plate process is one of the oldest photographic processes dating back to the early 1850’s.  It was used during the Civil War and through the later part of the 19th century.  While I love history, that is not what attracted me to this process.  The images are made using an emulsion that isn’t sensitive to panchromatic light (what our eyes see), so it has a really haunting way of capturing people and scenery.   My hands are on the plate through the entire process making it a truly handmade image.  There is nothing quite like it.

Can you explain the development process?
The process is wet plate collodion. I mix two salts with a syrupy substance called, collodion (which is cotton dissolved in nitric acid) and apply it to a metal plate. When submerged in a bath of liquid silver, the salts applied to the plate become silver halides rendering the plate sensitive to light. The plate is then exposed in the camera and upon development will become a direct positive image. The images are one of a kind.

Wet plate collodion became less popular in the late 19th century when dry plates were introduced. This eliminated the need for plates to be immediately developed and did not require a mobile darkroom to be carried along for on-site or traveling photography.

How do you think the community can better support their artists?
I’d love to see the art community come together in a co-op setting where all the artists involved are accountable for planning, setting up and cleaning up for an event.  Mentorship programs for young students in the area by more established artists within the community would be lovely as well.

What would you like to see happen in the Monmouth County art community?

I look at these vacant buildings at Sandy Hook and the hotels in the area and think of the artist residencies in hotels like The Object Hotel in Arizona and the Pfister Hotel in Minnesota. I can’t help but think of the opportunities we could have here for area artists.  I would love to see the large business’s, state parks and hotels carve out space for artist residencies and art instruction.

It would be great to see a space where working artists could have subsidized affordable rent and/or no fee shows and a cooperative communal space where each of them was held accountable to keep clean and beautiful.

Find Vanessa’s Tintype photography at:

    • IG: @armadillotintype
    • Web:
    • Her studio is located at the Jersey Shore Arts Center (a.k.a. “The Old Neptune High School”)