Nov. 21 2012 02:09 PM

Tintype-photography project Relampago' hits the road

Omar Lopez and his motorcycle / tintype photo booth
Photo by Omar Lopez

Relámpago is Spanish for "lightning," and it's also what Omar Lopez has named his series of tintype portraits that document what he refers to as "the game": With his motorcycle rigged up as a makeshift dark room, Lopez finds a place to park, approaches strangers and asks if they'll accept him as a member of their families for as long as it takes to pose for a picture. He develops the wet plate slides on the spot to chronicle each fictionalized interaction.

When the project is complete, Lopez says he'll have posed in 40 different scenarios in four places—San Diego, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Death Valley. He travels to each location on his bike; to show what that looks like, Lopez duct-taped his smart phone to the side of a friend's car and recorded a video of himself riding. The video is up on Relampago's Kickstarter page, which will be active through, Dec. 9.

Lopez is a full-time artist who's used Kickstarter before as an alternative to applying for grant money or having someone commission the work.

"It's just a matter of not wanting to wait around for an opportunity and then having to make the piece fit to that," he explains.

Still, the hope is for a gallery to show the work; Lopez has been writing proposals so that when the project wraps up, it has a place to land next spring.

But first, he needs those 40 photos, because the end product will be a catalogue of the mobile photo booth's adventures, presented in "craft newspaper form," he says, adding that he's had the idea for a portrait-only newspaper for some time.

The primary inspiration for Relampago comes from Lopez's penchant for people watching, street photography and interactive art.

"I like to play with strangers a lot," he says. "I knew I wanted to take pictures with people for this, but I thought it would be better to develop this bigger game of pretending. It was also born from the fear and apparent discomfort that people have with being approached."

For Part 2 of the project, Lopez will employ the help of his friend, Tijuana artist Alberto Caro. "I'll be taking photos, but it'll be his concept," Lopez says.

One of Caro's ideas so far, Lopez reveals, is to combine tintype photos taken in Tijuana with loteria cards, which are used in a game similar to bingo. Lopez explains that there are characters and objects on the cards, like the drunk, the dandy and the mermaid.

"There's also less P.C. ones, like the black guy or the Apache," he says.

So far, pulling up to public places with the rigged-up motorcycle has made Lopez feel like the kid with the toy that all the others are curious about. It's been a better icebreaker than if he were to approach strangers with just a camera. He insists he's not a photographer; he just digs the process and originality of the tintypes.

"I'm using the photos as the vehicle to get this project done. Photography is what I'm using to get people to play. But just because it's a game doesn't mean it's all silly and funny…. It's a game, but it has a little bit of a bite to it."

Amy blogs at and you can follow her on Twitter @saysgranite.


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