The Proposal by Blake McCollum


I get to marry my best friend and I couldn’t be happier about it. And here is the story about how the image above was made and how I asked the question.

Here is how it all went down…

To begin Joyce and I have had our portrait taken multiple times by my friend Michael Foster using his antique versions of photography. Some of the processes he does are almost extinct dating back to 1840’s but they are incredibly beautiful and timeless. I had the idea long ago about a proposal on tintype but would require a little back end work.

The Ring:

With the help of google, youtube, and Erin and Rae’s Jewelry I felt like I was almost ready to open my own jewelry store with my wealth of knowledge. I can’t say enough great things about Rae’s. Held my hand through the process, helped me find exactly what I was looking for, and made it perfect. Here is a link to their Instagram: Rae’s Jewelry

Another big piece of info you need is the size (Joyce doesn’t wear a lot of rings) so I had her friend Tiffany contact Joyce about a year ago saying “my friend is starting a new jewelry company and needs average sizes of different people.” So Joyce had over 15 measurements done of her hands for that. I could have 3D printed her hand with all the info supplied by her.

The Idea:

My number 1 goal was for Joyce to know nothing, have zero clue. SO I decided to let her getting in front of the camera be her idea instead of mine. Michael (photographer) sent a group message to us claiming he had a big job on Saturday and wanted to test his chemicals because they can literally go bad in a day. He mentioned bringing Mandy (our dog) and that was all that needed to be said. We went scouting for locations the same day. In the group message I was asking for Michael’s thoughts, looks, vibes, etc to look clueless as possible. It worked.

The (photo) Process:

Okay this is a bit over my head so I’ll do my best to summarize. Imagine 35MM film you in the past dropped off at walmart to be developed. That film is light sensitive due to chemistry put onto the film. Okay rewind 150 years before film existed BUT the chemistry to create light sensitivity did exist, and they would coat things like glass (it’s called an Ambrotype). We did 8x10 plates. The lens was a replica of one built from 1840 (to give you an idea of how old the process is) The blacks vanish and the highlights stay. You take the glass and mount it against a black velvet and you see what you see. That later turned into Tin Types, sorta the same process but now the vessel wasn’t glass so there was no need for black backing, the could just paint the tin black. The process is chemistry heavy and a “pain in the ass” but it’s the most beautiful thing ever. Watch this video to see how the process is done:

The Proposal:

Photoshoot is underway. We did a test shot with Mandy to make sure the chemistry worked. Micheal said “literally I don’t know if this will work until the first one develops” which made me sweat. The exposure time is roughly 3 seconds which means you must stand VERY still. Mandy moved her head, I just swayed a little. So a little blurry but exposure was dead on.

Second photo: (THE PHOTO) Michael brings joyce into the trailer to watch him prep the glass. She claimed she remembered it from the Tin Types but he insisted…. so I could get the ring. I’m nervous, sweating, heart beating and he lines us up for the next photo. Joyce is giggling, moving, etc asking “are you gonna smile?” me nervous as hell quickly and sternly say “nope…. not smiling.” Another 3 second exposure,” Michael says. I tell Joyce, “No matter what happens trust me and do what I say.” I turn to her, take a knee, tell her, “I love you and DO NOT MOVE!” I can hear Michael in the background counting out loud and finally gives us the go ahead to move once the exposure is over.

The Cover Ups:

Micheal really did need to test his chemicals. But he didn’t just “happen to be in town.” We had discussed actually weeks in advance just testing some things out and playing with the camera so the planets kinda aligned there.

I actually took my camera (obviously) saying I wanted to blog about Michael and his process because he was being so cool to do a test with us.

I had quite a few “photoshoots” and “meetings” in Columbus during the early stages. It’s tough to get an hour away from home without any questions or suspicions arising.

He even let Joyce develop (to positive) the image of the proposal.

He even let Joyce develop (to positive) the image of the proposal.

Possibly my favorite photo. This is Libby Li, Joyce’s little sister.

Possibly my favorite photo. This is Libby Li, Joyce’s little sister.


(below) Random Assortment of iPhone Pics from all those around:

Polaroid of everyone that was there.

Polaroid of everyone that was there.


Special thanks to a lot of special people that were involved:

Blaine and Corie Walters: They helped me create fake photoshoots at their store (The Bride and Groom) to get me out of Tupelo and to Columbus while ring shopping.

Erin at Rae’s Jewelry: Imagine knowing little to nothing about an important subject and a professional offers to hold your hand through it. She was a saint. Can’t say enough good things about her and Rae’s. (Columbus, MS).

Tiffany Stewart: Thanks for your support and getting that ring size…. like twice because I lost my phone.

Barrett Edens: “The Runner” he secured the package in Columbus and delivered it for me. PS he’s a hell of a good butcher/cattle farmer in West Point, MS at FarmHouse

Michael Foster: The Collodion God…. a true artist.
Michael’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/michaelnfoster/
Michael’s Website: https://michaelnfoster.com/upcoming-events/

Libby and Alisha: I love you both more than you will ever know. Thanks for all the help, translating, coordinating, and being the sisters I always wanted.

Kermits Outlaw Kitchen: Had an amazing dinner afterwards along with some delicious drinks. Thanks Meg ;)

Riley and Alyssa: For letting family crash at your place for a bit and just being amazing human beings.

Tupelo Cotton Mill: Thanks for letting us use your building. It’s beautiful and thanks Mr. Pirkle for putting so much work into that place. It’s going to be a highlight of the city.