Eastside Neighborhood

‘Archeologist of Style’: On the Ground Eastside photographer Eric Hennig digs the ‘old and arcane’

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Eastside series.  

Eric Hennig’s interest in photography all started with a vintage clothing business and a desire to present the attire artistically on an Etsy site he and his wife, Anastasia, started.

“We went to the rooftop and took some really artsy photos,” says Hennig about the launch of Vera Vague, the name chosen based on the couple’s admiration of popular 1940s radio, television and movie actress’ moniker. “Then we went to bed and sold $10 worth of clothing for $150 overnight.”

The Hennig’s antique vintage clothing business soon took off. In the '90s boom of digital cameras, Hennig began experimenting with photography and style, and he had the perfect model in his wife. 

Anastasia became Vera and Hennig became Victor Vague, Vera’s mysterious, alluring partner. On their Etsy site, the couple call themselves “time travelers, anachronistic treasure hunters of a bygone era.” 
Eric Hennig captured in a thoughtful moment. Photo by Kyle Bice. What lover of antique or vintage clothing could resist this: “The aroma of antique books is our perfume, we sew our clothing with the threads of time and when we sleep, we rest our heads upon cloud shaped memories of times already passed.”

“We made our shots a little artsy, and it spread from there,” says Hennig, who at the time he and Anastasia started their business had a lot of friends who were professional photographers. His interest in photography was piqued.

“I wanted to earn my chops as a photographer, so to speak, so I started developing film again and making my own prints.”

As he began researching developing techniques, he came across some of the older formats of photography, such as daguerrotypes and tintypes (less commonly known as ferrotypes). 

From the 1850s to the 1940s, tintypes, so-called because of their thin metal background (not tin), were a popular form of street photography because they could be developed quickly as they are not produced from a negative, but instead from a direct positive image.

When Hennig found the tintypes, he was immediately enamored because of their history and how they are developed, which includes using a colloidal process that involves coating, sensitizing and exposing the image for processing.

“I’m attracted to tintypes because they are old and arcane and completely hands-on,” Hennig says. “You need to get dirty making them, and it’s hard and challenging.”

In addition, Hennig says, tintypes, which take longer than a typical portrait session (15 minutes just to shoot one portrait), have a unique tonal range. “They don’t look like regular film,” he says. “The crudeness of the imperfections create rough edges, but the resolution is incredibly detailed and sharp. It’s half-sharp, half soft and dreamy and out of focus, and all liquid so there’s a fluidity.”

Since taking and developing tintypes, which Hennig does in his home studio, he has been perfecting his style. A self-proclaimed people person, Hennig likes to help his subjects to feel at ease. 

“Out of the small community of people who are doing it, my work is respected. And that’s empowering and brings attention to my other work.”

Nothing vague about Hennig’s photos except the name

Over the years, Hennig has expanded his photography repertoire to include portrait, event and wedding photography with tintypes as the “artistic passion” for his business, Vague Photography

Tintypes have a unique tonal range, Eric Hennig says, which makes them both sharp and soft.Nowadays, Hennig is so busy taking portrait and event photography, as well as photographing for On the Ground Eastside, that he doesn’t have much time for the original clothing business, so Anastasia, who also works at the Eastwood branch of the Kalamazoo Public Library, has taken it over.

On the Ground Eastside is happy to have Hennig representing in images the neighborhood he has called his own for the last four years. And Hennig says he’s excited to be working on the journalism project. 

As a wedding photographer, Hennig says, he is a storyteller, often taking photos that represent a timeline, and that narrative lens has come in handy with tackling photojournalism.

“This is my neighborhood,” says Hennig of the Eastside. “By taking photos for On the Ground, I’m thrown into the deep end of my community and I get to check it out. I might have never know about the makerspace and while (on assignment) there, I bumped into a friend.”

When asked what he likes about the Eastside, Hennig mentions the Eastwood Library (where his wife works), Lolito’s Tacos, a favorite food haunt on East Main, good friends around the corner, and the close proximity to downtown.

The Vagues (aka Hennigs) have also recently added a special project to their menagerie of passions, five-month-old daughter Ramona, another photogenic model for her father, who grooves on blending the old with the new.

Read more articles by Theresa Coty O'Neil.

Theresa Coty O’Neil is a freelance writer, editor, and writing teacher with over two decades of covering people, places, and events in the Kalamazoo community. She is the Project Editor of On the Ground Kalamazoo.