History Lesson: Wet and Dry Collodion, The Precursors to Film (pt. V)

By Gregg McNeill

In this series, we explore the history of photography in terms of image-making methods and various technologies available to photographers at different periods of time, leading up to the present host of available ways to make a photography. It wasn’t always os easy! In the previous entry, we were introduced to wet plate processes, and now move on to dry plate, the precursor to film. Photography is getting easier and easier!

Albumen prints (invented in 1850 by Louis Désiré Blanquart-Evrard) were made by floating a piece of paper on a solution of albumen, or egg white and salt, allowed to dry, floated again on a strong solution of silver nitrate and allowed to dry again, making them UV sensitive. This paper was placed in a contact frame with a glass negative and exposed to sunlight. Once the desired effect is achieved, the print is fixed and toned. This was cheap and it was quick. As a result, anyone of any income level, could afford a photograph. When traveling, if you didn’t return from an exotic locale with a photograph, you weren’t really there.

Castle, Kenilworth, Frederick Scott Archer, 1851_ Albumen silver print.jpgCastle, Kenilworth, Frederick Scott Archer, 1851; Albumen silver print

Shortly after the invention of the Ambrotype, came the Tintype, or Ferrotype. This was a thin sheet of iron with a baked on black enamel coating called japan. The process was the same as the Ambrotype, but yielded a one-off positive image. These were extremely popular, easy to make and, once varnished, very durable. Modern tintypes use trophy plate aluminium.

Tintypes were extremely popular during the American Civil War and many of those images survive today.

Isaac_Yost_of_Company_C,_118th_Regiment_Illinois_Infantry,_standing_in_uniform_with_bayoneted_musket_and_revolver_LCCN2010648383.jpgIsaac Yost of Company C, 118th Regiment Illinois Infantry, Standing In Uniform with Bayoneted Musket and Revolver

Frederick Scott Archer gave away this process free to the world and never made any money from it. He did, however, on 24 February 1854, take out a patent on a Wet Collodion Camera.

Archer Camera.jpgArcher Camera

The camera was akin to the kamra-e-faoree, or Afghan Box Camera. The chemistry was held inside of the camera itself in small trays. The photographer could coat, sensitise, expose and develop an image inside the camera by looking through a viewing window and placing their arms through sleeves attached to the side of the camera. A yellow glass window on the top acted as a “safelight”. Fixing could be done outside the camera, in view of the sitter.

Henry Fox Talbot believed that the wet collodion process infringed on his Calotype patent. He spent most of the rest of his life filing lawsuits against anyone and everyone. One photographer he went after was named Henderson. The Journal of the Photographic Society in June, 1854 wrote about the suit this way; “Talbot has as much right to prevent Henderson, or anyone else, taking portraits by the photographic or collodion processes, as he has to prevent Sir John Herschel from looking at the moon through a telescope”. It was only a matter of time before he went after Archer. Talbot’s lawsuit against Archer would come to nothing.

Frederick Scott Archer died penniless on 1 May, 1857.

On the 1st May, 2010, the members of ‘The Collodion Collective’ (Carl Radford, John Brewer and Quinn Jacobson), unveiled a marker near Archer’s grave. The original Archer family headstone was also discovered and reinstated by them.

FrederickScottArcherMemorial.jpg

The wet collodion process has experienced a renaissance in the last 10-15 years. You can find workshops in the US, UK and Europe. If you are interested in learning this process, I highly recommend taking a workshop, as the hands on training with an experienced practitioner will be less expensive (and far less frustrating) in the long run than wasting chemistry and materials trying to learn on your own.

In 1856, Richard Hill Norris, took out a patent for his Dry Collodion Plates. He found that covering the collodion emulsion with gelatine or gum arabic would preserve its light sensitivity. Photographers could now go out into the field to shoot and not have to carry chemistry or portable darkrooms with them. This meant that they had to carry multiple plate holders, but they could be loaded and processed at their leisure. This made the process an order of magnitude easier and the popularity of photography soared.

On 8, September 1871, The British Journal of Photography published Richard Maddox’s process for gelatin dry plate emulsion. This spelled the beginning of the end of the mass use of the wet collodion process. However, the process would still be in use in the graphics and printing business as well as at tintype photo booths at carnivals, fairs and amusement parks well into the 1960’s.

George Eastman developed a plate coating machine in 1879 and opened the Eastman Film and Dry Plate Company. This greatly reduced the cost of the photographic process and opened it up to many would-be photographers.

Eastman Dry Plates.jpg

There are very few contemporary makers of Dry Plates, but the process is still being practiced and taught.

Box Of Plates.jpeg

Dry Plate would be the most popular photographic process for another 10 years, until George Eastman revolutionized the world in 1888 with a device called the “Kodak” camera, introducing the phrase “You press the button and we do the rest.”

Sources:

http://www.frederickscottarcher.com/
http://www.samackenna.co.uk/fsa/thechemist.html
http://www.historiccamera.com/cgi-bin/librarium/pm.cgi?action=display&login=fredrickscottarcher
http://www.samackenna.co.uk/fsa/FSArcher.html
http://www.edinphoto.org.uk/1_early/1_early_photography_-_processes_-_wet_collodion.htm
http://www.edinphoto.org.uk/1_early/1_early_photography_-_processes_-_wet_collodion_-_thomas_rodger_00.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Scott_Archer
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis-Nicolas_M%C3%A9nard
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collodion_process
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collodion
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambrotype
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tintype
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dry_plate
http://www.thevictorianphotographer.com/workshops/
http://www.johncoffer.com/
https://www.topshitphotography.com/
http://www.jonathanstead.com/index.html
http://www.streetlevelphotoworks.org/course/dry-plate
http://thelightfarm.com/cgi-bin/htmlgen.py?content=PictorioGraphica
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photographic_film
http://www.earlyphotography.co.uk/site/gloss10.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_photography
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JDfdHWBVG4
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albumen_print
https://www.etsy.com/shop/Pictoriographica
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renaissance_Wax
Reilly, James M. The Albumen & Salted Paper Book: The history and practice of photographic printing, 1840-1895. Light Impressions Corporation. Rochester, 1980
A Silver Salted Gelatine Emulsion, Richard L. Maddox, British Journal of Photography, September 8, 1871
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Moving Forward: Our First Working Camera Using Raspberry PI

We’re thrilled to show you a sneak peek into the progress of the PONF Camera. We’ve got a simple prototype that works!

Maybe along the way you’ve asked, what is Raspberry PI, and how are we using it to make a fully programmable camera? Here we’ll explore exactly what this tiny yet powerful system can do and how we’re using to power the PONF systems. And more importantly, how you, the proud owner of your PONF Camera, will be using it too! One of our favorite aspects about this technology is how accessible it is to dive in and learn to create different functions for your camera. That’s the benefit of uniting computers and photography.

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The Raspberry PI itself, in case you’re not familiar, is a fully functional computer with all necessary components to operate programs and perform various tasks. It connects to a display and will use a program to communicate between the sensor and the Raspberry PI, operated by the user via the touch screen. You can see below the Raspberry PI is connected to the 7″ screen, along with the other cables needed for this model. In this very first version, we’ve used a ribbon cable to connect a small sensor to the Raspberry PI. This provides a working camera, but not a great one like we’re envisioning. The final PONF Camera will have its own printed circuit board which communicates the vast amount of information needed to create an image once captured by the high resolution sensor to the main computer for processing. At its very simplest, this is how digital photography works.

1527257361359.JPEG

We connected the screen, the Raspberry PI, and a sensor. What’s next? Programming the functions. This very first version has the ability to capture still and video images, and is also connected to wifi. The basic programming language used is Python, which in brief, is an object oriented, simple code used to give the commands to the Raspberry PI. Right now, these are only the simple commands noted above: Take a picture, record a video, and connect to the web browser.

1527257361188-jpeg.jpg

As you know however, these simple functions will only be the beginning. In the finished camera, one will be able to select one menu to control all functions of the camera. Another menu will allow access to the display of the camera, where you’ll be able to make changes to the way the camera’s controls are set up. A third menu will allow access to other devices, like printers, monitors, external storage, and more. We’ll teach you to create all the functionality you want using the simple code structure.

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Do you have any questions? Let us know!

Given that we are an Open Source Project, we are PONF are excited to keep our community updated on our progress, and look forward to sharing the official renderings of the camera and our first corresponding prototypes.

In the meantime, we’ll keep you in the loop on how things are progressing. The best way to follow the project is by signing up for our Newsletter! You can also follow us on Instagram and Facebook.

History Lesson: Wet and Dry Collodion, The Precursors to Film (pt. IV)

By Gregg McNeill

In this series, we explore the history of photography in terms of image-making methods and various technologies available to photographers at different periods of time, leading up to the present host of available ways to make a photography. It wasn’t always os easy! In the previous entry, we talked about the paper processes. From the preceding photographic technologies, they were a step up in ease of use, but a step back in image quality.

Our story resumes in 1846. Louis-Nicolas Ménard, a gentleman scientist in France, discovers collodion. Collodion is basically nitrocellulose, or gun-cotton, dissolved in ether and alcohol, creating a sticky film (the name collodion comes from the Greek κολλώδης (kollodis), meaning gluey). In 1847 collodion was first used as a covering for medical dressing, then in the battlefield during the Crimean War. Collodion is still used today in the medical industry, as well as the Theatrical industry as a special effects make-up.

Frederick Scott Archer by Robert Cade, 1856.jpgFrederick Scott Archer by Robert Cade, 1856

Enter Frederick Scott Archer. He was a Sculptor. He often used Calotypes to capture images of his work. Archer became frustrated by the lack of definition of the images and extremely long exposure times, he sought out a new way of making images of his work. In 1848, Archer began work on his Wet Collodion process. He published his process in The Chemist magazine in March of 1851. This was the first time that glass had been used as a substrate for photographs. They were called Ambrotypes.

the chemist 1850-1851 title page.jpg

The Chemist title page

It also should be noted that a Frenchman named Gustave Le Gray had been working on a collodion-on-glass process and had published an article about 1 year earlier. However, his article was vague as to the process and has been described as “a theory, at best”. It’s a cruel irony that we have a wealth of fantastic images from Le Gray and less than 100 images known to be made by Archer.

Gustave LeGray - Tree, Forest of Fontainebleau, 1856.jpgGustave Le Gray, Tree, Forest of Fontainebleau, 1856

The first step in the Wet Collodion process is to grind down the cut edges of the glass plate, then meticulously clean the plate with a solution of alcohol and calcium carbonate.

Collodion is flowed carefully onto the glass plate, allowed to partially set, then lowered into the silver bath.

coating2.jpg

Inside the silver bath, the bromides and iodides in the collodion react with the silver nitrate to form a light sensitive emulsion on the plate. After about 3-4 minutes, the plate is sufficiently sensitized to create an image.

coating3.jpg

Under safelight conditions, the plate is removed from the Silverbath and loaded into the plate holder. Since collodion is only sensitive to the green blue and some of the UV spectrum, exposure times are determined by experience.

Developing the plate is done by removing the plate in safelight conditions and pouring developer onto the plate. Once developing is complete, water is poured over the plate to arrest development.

coating4.jpg

Plates can be fixed in either Sodium Thiosulfate (photographic fixer) or Potassium Cyanide (KCN). This is the part of the process where you can see the image turn from negative to positive, right before your eyes.

The plate will lose sensitivity to light if the collodion dries, so all of the above steps have to be accomplished while the chemistry is still wet.

Once the image on the plate is dry, you must protect the delicate collodion emulsion by varnishing. This is done with either a sarandac, or lacquer varnish. After heating the plate over an open alcohol flame, flow the varnish over the plate and allow it to set. Heat the plate again to cure the varnish. Many modern Collodionists use Renaissance Wax instead of varnishing since it doesn’t darken the image on the plate like most varnishes. The downside of this is that the image layer isn’t as protected as it is with varnish.

The Ambrotype represented a sea change in photography. Prints from these glass negatives could be reproduced hundreds of times and unlike the Calotype, held a fantastic amount of detail.

Ante Room of Great Hall, Frederick Scott Archer, 1851.jpgAnte Room of Great Hall, Frederick Scott Archer, 1851

Wet and Dry Collodion, The Precursor to Film will be published in two parts. Keep an eye out for the next chapter!

Sources:
\http://www.frederickscottarcher.com/
http://www.samackenna.co.uk/fsa/thechemist.html
http://www.historiccamera.com/cgi-bin/librarium/pm.cgi?action=display&login=fredrickscottarcher
http://www.samackenna.co.uk/fsa/FSArcher.html
http://www.edinphoto.org.uk/1_early/1_early_photography_-_processes_-_wet_collodion.htm
http://www.edinphoto.org.uk/1_early/1_early_photography_-_processes_-_wet_collodion_-_thomas_rodger_00.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Scott_Archer
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis-Nicolas_M%C3%A9nard
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collodion_process
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collodion
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambrotype
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tintype
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dry_plate
http://www.thevictorianphotographer.com/workshops/
http://www.johncoffer.com/
https://www.topshitphotography.com/
http://www.jonathanstead.com/index.html
http://www.streetlevelphotoworks.org/course/dry-plate
http://thelightfarm.com/cgi-bin/htmlgen.py?content=PictorioGraphica
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photographic_film
http://www.earlyphotography.co.uk/site/gloss10.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_photography
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JDfdHWBVG4
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albumen_print
https://www.etsy.com/shop/Pictoriographica
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renaissance_Wax
Reilly, James M. The Albumen & Salted Paper Book: The history and practice of photographic printing, 1840-1895. Light Impressions Corporation. Rochester, 1980
A Silver Salted Gelatine Emulsion, Richard L. Maddox, British Journal of Photography, September 8, 1871

 

Zollhof Tech Incubator Welcomes PONF to Their Roster

We say constantly that PONF is being brought to life with hundreds of hours of hard work, meetings, networking and more, and it’s paying off in huge, tangible ways. If you’ve been skeptical that this dream camera is only a dream, it’s time to reconsider! Development is picking up to double time.

Screen Shot 2018-05-14 at 10.35.37 PM

Here’s our latest big news: we are incredibly proud to announce that PONF has been selected to participate in the prestigious Zollhof Tech Incubator. Zollhof is a collective of incredibly talented entrepreneurs and innovators in Nürnberg who give resources and support to ambitious tech startups with big ideas. Through their internal resources and connections, they have helped many projects related to Internet of Things, Big Data, AI, and other forward thinking fields flourish and succeed. They say, “We take on the role of a company builder, we’re focused on your needs and will pave your road towards success.” PONF plans to take full advantage of all of it, as it means that we get to bring something better to the photography community, and faster.

What does this mean for our team? As of this official announcement, we’ll begin using the resources available at Zollhof and next steps are in the fast track: renderings, prototyping, and finally, the launch of our presale.

More importantly though, what does this mean for you, followers and friends of the PONF Fellowship? It means that we’re entering our critical pre-launch phase and we need and appreciate your support more than ever. Tell your friends and colleagues that the next greatest camera will be arriving before the end of the year. Share our blog posts, follow along on Facebook and Instagram, and sign up for our Newsletter. And, don’t forget to start planning how you’ll design your PONF Camera.

The hybrid future of analog and digital photography is here!

 

PONF x SONY Update: BIG Things To Come

PONF has a big vision for camera modularity. We see modularity as the key to the ability to create an ecosystem of camera bodies, lenses, systems, and formats that can be exchanged in and out depending on who is using them and how.

Sometimes you need something fast and light. Other times, the situation calls for the process to slow down and see things in stunning, highest possible definition, and you simply need the ability to capture more light. That’s where medium format comes in.

analog-antique-aperture-872492

Even before the first PONF Camera, which will be based on the 35mm format and have either APS-C or Full Frame Sony imaging sensor, is on the market, we already have eyes on the future to release something BIGGER.

In partnership with our friends at Sony, PONF is pleased to announce that we will be officially using their 100MP sensors in the second family of PONF products, allowing users to seamlessly alternate between medium format film and medium format digital. Our democratic pricing structures will make this technology to professionals, educators, and consumers alike for the first time in history.  Gone are the days where only the top dollar professionals could access top of the line sensors. At PONF, it’s preeminence to the people!

ponf sony

Also gone are the days of having to consider analog photography a “risk”. PONF offers both imaging solutions of film and digital side by side. You can have the immediate gratification and “fail proof” option of digital, but you can also have the physical, tangible, undeletable aspect of film. Not to mention both looks, highly sought after by artists and clients alike. Bye bye, presets! 

For everyone that’s ever dreamed of creating amazing, and wished they had access to their dream camera to bring it to life, the time has come. PONF, the Everything Camera, will be yours to explore the world with soon!

Stay in the know! Be sure to follow PONF Camera progress on our Facebook, Instagram, and by signing up for our newsletter.