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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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

 

The Many of Uses For Cameras

By Katherine Phipps

Remember cameras?

Real cameras. Because our quest is to produce a camera for all, we at PONF spend a lot of time thinking about the uses of cameras. Before smartphones were packing imaging sensors as sophisticated as my first DSLR and making simulated bokeh, it seemed to be a lot more common that people every now and then would get themselves a new camera. Or maybe they’d get one handed down from their family. Cameras used to be built to last, silently clicking frames to freeze moments of time as it passed by.

aperture-black-and-white-brand-trademark-236598.jpg

A Time Before Ubiquity

I remember an interesting intersection of time when people had all types of cameras. People had point and shoots of varying cool automatic capabilities. Pro photogs had cameras with big battery grips and lenses like soup cans, many elements of heavy glass, artsy photographers had beautiful view cameras and old, mechanical 35mm and medium format cameras that had silently witnessed the 60s and 70s. People had Polaroids, and didn’t say “that still exists?!” in amazement when you went to snap a photo.

artist-camera-cameras-6182.jpg

Enter the “camera phone” which seemed to for some period of time distract us from the wonders of having a dedicated camera, so much so that to “non-photographers” grow accustomed to shooting photos and now the people taking pictures who never had a dedicated camera perhaps outweighs the number of people who did have a “real camera” and carried it around for some period of their lives, and far less who do so on a regular basis today.

There’s a Million Reasons  To Carry A Camera

So here is a list of all of the uses for photography, in case you were wondering how you might use your new PONF camera. We are excited to help people remember cameras. Do you have another idea for a way to use a camera? Write us a comment with your own ideas below!

  1. Taking photos of your friends
  2. Taking photos of your family
  3. Taking photos of your dog or cat
  4. Taking photos of all the dogs
  5. Taking photos of beautiful light
  6. Wedding photography
  7. Art photography
  8. Landscape photography
  9. Travel photography
  10. News photography
  11. Documenting injustice
  12. Documenting kindness
  13. Documenting everything
  14. Sharing perspective
  15. Wildlife photography
  16. Astrophotography (photographs of the night sky)
  17. Photography for research
  18. Photography for forensics
  19. Photography for education (literally, pictures of Everything!)
  20. Photography for advertising
  21. Photos of products
  22. Food photography
  23. Stock photography
  24. Fashion photography
  25. Historical photographs (the moments are happening right now, folks!)
  26. Medical photography
  27. Architectural photography
  28. Industrial photography
  29. Interior photography
  30. Photo Booths
  31. Event Photography
  32. Concert Photography
  33. Album Art
  34. The Yearbook
  35. Personal photography (a record of your own intimate time and place)
  36. Look around. Tell us the next best use for your camera.

PONF is the Everything Camera.

So there you have it, folks. So many reasons to carry a camera, so many opportunities to look up and around, away from your smartphone. You’ll notice so much more of what’s happening around you, if you only open your eyes. The PONF Camera Systems seek to put all of the possibilities at your fingertips. No matter what your camera will witness on the day to day, we are here to build it perfectly for you.

Stock Photography sourced from Pexels.com

History Lesson: The Calotype and the Dawn of the Paper Processes (pt. III)

Written 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. In part one, we explored the origins of the very first photographIn part two, we explored the rise of the Daguerreotype and the popularization of photography.

In 1839, Louis Daguerre was pronounced ‘The Inventor of Photography’. This did not sit well with many others, Nicéphore Niépce’s son, Isidore, for one. He was furious that his father’s work wasn’t even mentioned by Daguerre and spent the rest of his life telling anyone who would listen that it was, in fact, his father, who really invented photography.

There were several other people working simultaneously and independently of each other to perfect a fixed photographic image.

Julia_Margaret_Cameron - John Herschel April, 1867.jpg
Julia Margaret Cameron – John Herschel April, 1867

In 1819, the polymath scientist, Sir John Herschel discovered that hyposulfite of soda (now known as sodium thiosulfate, or “hypo”, common photographic fixer) dissolved silver salts.

Herschel discovered what would become the platinum printing process in 1832, based on his research of the light sensitivity of platinum salts. Around this same time, he also invented other lesser-known photographic processes such as The Chrysotype using colloidal gold as a means of creating an image and the Anthotype (also known as Phytotype) process that used photosensitive material from plants.

In 1839, he shared his sodium thiosulfate discovery with both Louis Daguerre and his friend William Henry Fox Talbot, giving a solution to the vexing problem of stabilizing photographic images to permanence.

Also in 1839, Herschel produced the first photograph on glass. This photo depicted his father’s telescope in Slough, near London. Herschel’s other contributions to photography include coining the term Photography and he was the first person to apply the terms Positive and Negative to photography.

Herschel Telescope First Photograph on Glass, 3 September, 1839
Herschel Telescope First Photograph on Glass, 3 September, 1839

In 1842, Herschel invented the Cyanotype process as a way to reproduce notes and diagrams. (This process was used well into the 20th century for engineering and architectural blueprints.). Cyanotypes have an interesting characteristic in that they will fade under prolonged exposure to sunlight but can often be regenerated by placing them in darkness for a while.

In 1843, Botanist and Photographer Anna Atkins used this technique to produce a book of Cyanotype photograms (objects placed directly onto sensitized paper and exposed leaving a negative impression) called, Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions.

Anna_Atkins_algae_cyanotype 1843
Anna Atkins, Algae Cyanotype, 1843

In May 1839, three months before the big announcement of Daguerre’s invention, a clerk in the French Ministry of Finance, named Hippolyte Bayard, had shown French physicist (and director of the Paris Observatory), Dominique François Arago his own photographic images made with a positive paper process. He had sensitized paper with Silver chloride and inserted the wet paper into his camera for exposure; the paper was then developed out in potassium iodide to yield a positive image. This image was fixed with potassium bromide. Bayard was given a small pension to keep quiet about his process. His photograph, Self Portrait as a Drowned Man is widely considered the very first political protest photograph.

Self Portrait as a Drowned Man, Hippolyte Bayard, 1840, Courtesy of Societé Francais de la Photographie and the George Eastman House, Rochester, NY
Self Portrait as a Drowned Man, Hippolyte Bayard, 1840, Courtesy of Societé Français de la Photographie and the George Eastman House, Rochester, NY

Upon hearing the announcement of Daguerre’s invention, an Englishman named William Henry Fox Talbot rushed to The Royal Institution on January 29th to proclaim that he had been working on a photographic process he called Photogenic Drawing, since 1834, presenting several images he had made. Two weeks later he presented his process to The Royal Society. Talbot’s process couldn’t have been more different, however.

John Moffat, William Henry Fox Talbot With Camera and lens, 1864

(Right: John Moffat, William Henry Fox Talbot With Camera and Lens, 1864) 

Talbot’s Salted Paper or Photogenic Drawing process used fine-grained writing paper sensitized with a weak silver chloride solution, then brushed with a strong solution of silver nitrate. This created a coating of silver chloride, which darkened when exposed to light. The exposure times were often an hour or two for this process, producing a paper negative. This is referred to as a “Printing Out” process, meaning that the image is fully visible when the exposure is completed. (This is different from a “Developing Out” process where the latent exposed image is invisible until it is developed. Daguerreotypes are a developing out process.)

What was so revolutionary about Talbot’s process was that photographs were now easily reproducible. To copy a Daguerreotype, you had to re-photograph it. By contrast, with a paper negative, the process was fairly simple. First, you would wax the paper negative to make it translucent. Second, you would place the waxed paper negative on top of a piece of sensitized paper and place that into a contact frame. This frame was placed out in sunlight to expose.  Once the image was developed to satisfaction, it was processed as normal.

In 1841, Talbot perfected his Calotype process (sometimes referred to as Talbotype). The term Calotype comes from the Greek καλός (kalos), “beautiful”, and τύπος (tupos), “impression”.

WHF Talbot The Open Door (wide shadow) April, 1844
W.H.F. Talbot, The Open Door (Wide Shadow) April, 1844

This was a developing out process using silver iodide. The Calotype Process brought exposure times down from hours to a few minutes in bright sun. The process starts with brushing a high quality writing paper with silver nitrate and allowed to dry. The paper is then soaked in potassium iodide (This formed silver iodide on the paper) and allowed to dry again. When the paper was needed, the silver iodide paper was brushed with “gallo-nitrate of silver” (silver nitrate, acetic acid and gallic acid) and placed in a dark slide to be exposed. The latent image was developed by washing the negative in gallo-nitrate of silver and then stabilized by either a rinse of potassium bromide or fixed in a hot solution of sodium thiosulfate.

Contemporary Calotypists are using several different methods to make their images. Each method has its followers and my research has shown that this process is not easy, but once mastered, produces beautiful pictures. Looking at the Flickr gallery of The Calotype Society you can see the potential of the process.

Edinburgh_calotype_club_1_53_maitland_montgomery_tennent

(Left: Edinburgh Calotype Club, Maitland Montgomery Tennent)

The Calotype is a very different image from the Daguerreotype. The Calotype is a paper process, so the grain and texture of the paper become part of the image, lessening detail and giving the overall image a more painterly quality. This was seen as much more desirable for portraits and artistic landscapes. Because of this, Talbot is often seen as the first photographic artist. His monograph called The Pencil of Nature is regarded as the “first photographically illustrated book to be commercially published”. It was published in instalments and contains his own account of the invention of the Calotype process; as well as several insights into the making of images and their use outside of being pieces of art. You can view and search Talbot’s vast collection of Calotype negatives and prints here.

The_Pencil_of_Nature cover
The Pencil Of Nature cover

The United Kingdom and Scotland, in particular, was a locus for Calotype photography. The Edinburgh Calotype Club, founded in 1842, was the world’s first photography society. They had many distinguished members and their body of work, Pencils of Light, is still available to view, in person, at The National Library of Scotland.

The Calotype studio of Hill and Adamson at Rock House in Edinburgh, produced some of the first social documentary photography with their images of the fisherfolk of Newhaven. The work of Hill and Adamson can be seen at The National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh.

Hill and Adamson Fisherman and boys 1843 (right: Hill and Adamson Fisherman and boys 1843)

Many historians believe that the invention of the Calotype marks the real birth of Photography in the mainstream consciousness. It’s repeatability and relative ease to produce (when compared to Daguerreotypes) and the overall mass appeal of the images themselves really brough photography to the masses. There was, however, still a desire for the amazing detail of the Daguerreotype and that is where Fredrick Scott Archer came in.

Next up:  Wet Plate Collodion: The Precursor of Film

Sources:

Talbot, William Henry Fox. Pencil of Nature Published by Longman, Green and Longmans, London 1844

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/33447/33447-h/33447-h.html

William Henry Fox Talbot Collection http://foxtalbot.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/search

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/33447/33447-h/33447-h.html

https://digital.nls.uk/pencilsoflight/history.htm

http://www.edinphoto.org.uk/1_edin/1_edinburgh_calotype_club_0.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edinburgh_Calotype_Club

http://www.edinphoto.org.uk/1_early/1_early_photography_-_equipment_catalogue_1856_chemicals_for_the_calotype_process.htm

http://www.foxtalbot.dmu.ac.uk/

http://special.lib.gla.ac.uk/exhibns/month/Feb2007.html

http://fourtoes.co.uk/iblog/strines-journal-calotype/

Hunt, Robert. A Manual of Photography Published by John Griffin & Co. Glasgow 1853

https://www.flickr.com/groups/1384661@N22/pool/

http://fourtoes.co.uk/iblog/strines-journal-calotype/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Atkins

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Herschel

James, Christopher. The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes. Cengage Learning, 2016.

Atkins, Anna (1985). Sun Gardens: Victorian Photograms. With text by Larry J. Schaaf. New York: Aperture. ISBN 0-89381-203-X.

http://www.mikeware.co.uk/mikeware/New_Cyanotype_Process.html

https://www.photrio.com/forum/threads/hippolyte-bayard-direct-positive-process.46274/

Raffaello Palandri Describes His First Encounter with Digital Photography

An Essay and Photography by Raffaello Palandri

I have always been curious. I have always loved computers, technology, and learning new things, constantly using, disassembling and understanding everything. So, could I have avoided an early contact with digital photography? I can still remember my first encounter with this new technology in 1998, when I met the mighty Sony Cybershot DSC-MD1.

Sony_CyberShot_DSC-MD1_CP+_2011

A friend of mine got the camera from his father, who was returning from Japan. He probably got the camera from a store in Akihabara, the famous electronics district in Tokyo. I was lucky to be present when my friend opened the box for the first time.
A sort of squared silver object with a lens came out of the box. The lens was covered by a plastic cap, hooked to the wrist strap, something that I found funny in such a technological beauty. How could it be that such a camera could have a lens cap that… normal?

I almost had to fight with my friend to be able to handle the camera. The feeling was unique: it had a good weight (cannot remember, somewhat more than half a kilo) and it was full of nice buttons and dials, with labels in ideograms and Japanese. Having small hands, I appreciated the relatively small size: it was no more than, let’s say 9 x 12 cm.

It was a sort of Holy Grail, and I had it in my hands! When I managed to find the button to turn it on, the magic started. The MD disc started to spin, and with a soft buzzing noise, the menu appeared on the tilt (!) display… again in Japanese.3195722457_d70012cc3b_zThe camera was never intended for other markets and had no way to change the language on the menu. I found the position of the shutter button weird, on a sort of ridge on the usual right side of the camera, but inclined like in a German Praktica PL Nova or similar. The second weird thing was the lack of a finder. I looked for it but nothing. To shoot, you needed to take the camera at eye level, aiming with some sort of hopeful luck and then shooting, hoping not to shake the body too much. 

3162180783_3ba65590c4_zI  sadly had to give the camera back to my friend. But in that very moment, digital photography genuinely captured my curiosity. From that moment on, I continued shooting film and digital.

I have always found with digital I bring a different mind set to my photos. With film I had a sort of meditative approach, partially because I also used 4×5 and 8×10 cameras. I looked, pictured in my mind the photo, then I pressed the shutter button. It was a physical and mental process. You had to wait for the result. With digital all this was gone. I could directly take a photo, or better, several photos, with different settings and then improve, delete, re-take. The whole process become more oriented to getting the photo as quickly as possible. If you didn’t like it, you could delete it.

To this day, I cannot decide if I prefer digital or film. I like them both. 🙂 

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History Lesson: Daguerreotypes and the Popularization of Photography (pt.II)

Written 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. In part one, we explored the origins of the very first photograph.

In our previous entry we looked at Nicéphore Niépce and his Heliograph, View from the Window at Le Gras. This entry focuses on his business partner Louis Daguerre.

Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre was born on 18 November 1787 in Cormeilles-en-Parisis, Val-d’Oise, France. He was trained as an Architect, but was known for his skill at theatrical illusion and diorama painting. His fascination began when he used a camera obscura to aid in the painting of his large Diorama Paintings for his theater. When he partnered with Nicéphore Niépce, his mind was always on the money-making potential of the medium of photography.

 

Portrait of Louis_Daguerre, 1844 by Jean-Baptiste Sabatier-Blot .jpgPortrait of Louis Daguerre, 1844 by Jean-Baptiste Sabatier-Blot, George Eastman House

In 1833 Nicéphore Niépce suddenly died, leaving all of his notes to Louis Daguerre. Daguerre would all but abandon the bitumen-based photographic process they had been working on in favour of a silver-based process that he had been experimenting with, separately from Niépce.

Daguerre’s process was as follows:

A silver-plated copper sheet was polished to as perfect a mirror finish as possible. This first step was essential to making a good-looking photograph. Getting a perfect finish by hand, could take up to an hour. First, rottenstone, a fine polishing abrasive, is applied with a hide-covered buff, then jeweller’s rouge. Lampblack is then applied, usually with a velvet-covered buff. Applying nitric acid, to remove any remaining matter, finished the polishing process.

The polished plate is then sensitized in a darkroom using a fuming box:

Stephen_day_fuming_box.jpgStephen Day Fuming Box

Here is an in-depth look at a modern fuming box. The plate was placed into the fuming box carriage, and then slid over a dish containing iodine crystals. The plate is fumed until a yellow tinge appears. This produces a coating of silver iodide.

The exposure time was several minutes. This made the first portraits quite an ordeal, with the sitter clamped into all manner of metal braces to prevent movement. It was later found that an additional fuming over bromine fumes, followed by a second shorter exposure to iodine fumes greatly increased sensitivity, reducing exposure times to as little as 30 seconds in full sun.

Once exposed, the still invisible latent image was developed in the darkroom, over fumes of heated mercury. Even though the toxic nature of mercury exposure was well known, precautions were rarely taken. Modern practitioners of this process use fume hoods and other laboratory-grade safety equipment.

The much safer Becquerel process of Daguerreotype development involves sensitizing the plate only to iodine fumes. Then, after exposure the plate is developed in sunlight using a red filter to cover the plate. This red-filtered “sun bath” intensifies the latent image to visibility, as if the image were exposed for several hours.

Back in the darkroom, the fixing of the image was originally done with a hot saturated salt solution, but this was almost immediately replaced with a bath of sodium thiosulfate, the common fixer we still use in film development today.

After drying, the image on the plate was basically a coating of fine dust and very, very delicate. A gold chloride solution was pooled onto the surface of the plate, which was heated from underneath then drained, rinsed and dried. This gilding gave the image a warmer, more pleasing tone and made the coating a little more resilient. Still, the image was subject to tarnishing from exposure to the air, so great care had to be exercised to maintain the image’s integrity.

The finished Daguerreotype plate had to be encased in an airtight container. A matt was placed over the plate and covered with a pane of glass, bound together and sealed with strips of paper coated with Gum Arabic. This was then fixed into a protective case.

Daguerreotypes were a one-off process, meaning that the plate that was produced was a one-of-a-kind with no negative. They could only be copied by re-photographing them. This was a service that many studios offered but it was costly.

With the help of French physicist (and director of the Paris Observatory), Dominique François Arago, Daguerre would present an overview of his process to the French Academy of Sciences on January 7, 1839. The details were kept secret, with viewings of his plates only at his studio and under strict supervision.  The French government agreed to buy the rights to his process in exchange for a lifetime pension for himself and Niépce’s son, Isidore, as per a previous agreement between Daguerre and Niépce.

On August 19, 1839 the French government presented the Daguerreotype process to the world for free, as a gift. (Despite this a patent agent, acting on Daguerre’s behalf, applied for a patent in England and Scotland just five days previous, entitled “A New and Improved Method of Obtaining the Spontaneous Reproduction of all the Images Received in the Focus of the Camera Obscura”. Photographers in England and Scotland would now have to pay a license fee to use the Daguerreotype process. For this reason the process wasn’t widely adopted in the UK.) Louis Daguerre would also retain the patents on the camera and other equipment used to make Daguerreotype images.

Daguerreotype studios quickly opened in every major city across the globe.

For the next 15-20 years Daguerreotypes would be the most popular and ubiquitous method for image capture. Nearly 5 million plates were created in this time.

Daguerre himself created what is believed to be the first photograph of a person. In his image, Boulevard du Temple, in the lower left corner you can see a man getting his shoes shined. The exposure time is thought to be somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes, long enough for the camera to capture the unknown men and render the moving traffic in the street invisible.

Boulevard_du_Temple, 1838 by Louis Daguerre.jpgBoulevard du Temple, 1838 by Louis Daguerre

This image is thought to be the oldest daguerreotype portrait, taken by John William Draper, of his sister Dorothy Catherine Draper.

Portrait of Dorothy Catherine Draper, 1839 by John William Draper.jpgPortrait of Dorothy Catherine Draper, 1839 by John William Draper

The first self-portrait was taken by Philadelphia photographer Robert Cornelius in October or November of 1839. He wrote on the back “The first light picture ever taken”.

Self Portrait, 1839 by Robert Cornelius.jpgSelf Portrait, 1839 by Robert Cornelius

It’s difficult for us to understand the impact that Daguerre’s photographs had on the public. For the first time in history, people could see places they could never visit and images of someone long dead. The best way to experience a Daguerreotype is to hold it. Alison Nordström, a photographic curator, called Daguerreotypes “Mirrors With a Memory”. This is very apt. The image is both a negative and a positive at the same time, depending on the angle at which it is viewed. The image appears to lift off the plate, with the viewer often reflected in it.  

A properly exposed and focused Daguerreotype has nearly infinite detail, exceeding even modern digital methods. One can get lost in the image examining every tiny detail and staring into the eyes of someone from the past.

Daguerre had introduced photography to the populace and photographs were being made all over the world, for those that could afford them. The process was complicated, cumbersome and somewhat dangerous but photography was gaining popularity.

Next: The Calotype and other paper processes make the photograph repeatable and easier.

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daguerreotype

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Daguerre

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_photography

James, Christopher. The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes. Cengage Learning, 2016.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d932Q6jYRg8

http://www.alternativephotography.com/becquerel-daguerreotype/

https://goo.gl/cfqRiV

http://www.cdags.org/wp-content/uploads/HowImadeDaguerreotypes1972.pdf

https://agno3solution.wordpress.com/2015/03/20/daguerreotype-fuming-box-ver-3-3-march-2015/

http://www.daguerreotypes.co.uk/Equipment.htm

http://www.alistairscott.com/daguerre/

http://www.edinphoto.org.uk/1_early/1_early_photography_-_processes_-_daguerreotype.htm

http://cdags.org/

https://goo.gl/Cnjudu

http://www.photohistory-sussex.co.uk/dagprocess.htm

https://www.filmsnotdead.com/joyeux-anniversaire-daguerreotype/

 

History Lesson: The First Photograph (pt. I)

Written 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. 

View_from_the_Window_at_Le_Gras,_Joseph_Nicéphore_Niépce 1826View from the Window at Le Gras, Nicéphore Niépce, 1826

This is the oldest surviving photograph made by a camera. It is called is a Heliograph and it was produced in 1826 by Nicéphore Niépce. This image is the manually enhanced version made by historian Helmut Gernsheim in 1952. The actual plate looks like this (The dimples were caused by damage sometime after 1952):

Point_de_vue_du_Gras_by_Niépce,_1826

Niépce’s other pioneering work included the invention of the Heliogravure, a process used to copy drawings and engravings. He worked with Louis Daguerre perfecting many photographic processes like the Physautotype.  Niépce and his brother Claude invented the Pyréolophore, the world’s first internal combustion engine.

View from the Window at le Gras was created by dissolving Bitumen of Judea in Lavender oil and brushing it onto a pewter plate. The sensitised plate was then loaded into the back of a camera obscura similar to this one:

camera-obscura-invention-photographie

The exposure took anywhere from 8 hours to several days (modern experiments lean toward several days). Notice how the sun strikes both sides of the buildings?

After the plate was exposed, it was washed with lavender oil and white petroleum. The bitumen in the areas of the image that received more light would harden and remain and the areas that received less light would wash away. The Heliographic process doesn’t yield a terribly detailed photograph, but considering this is one of the very first times that a permanent image was made with a camera, it’s pretty incredible. This process, as well as Niépce’s Physautotype process, are still practiced today.

View from the Window at le Gras is on display at The Henry Ransom Center, in Austin Texas. You can also visit Niépce’s home and workshop, The Maison Nicéphore Niépce in Paris.

With the birth of photography, the process of making a permanent photograph was neither easy nor convenient. It was the domain of scientists, inventors and craftsmen. It would be some time before everyone would be able to be a photographer.

Up next: The Daguerreotype

Links:

http://www.photo-museum.org/niepce-invention-photography

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicéphore_Niépce

http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/exhibitions/permanent/firstphotograph/

http://www.photo-museum.org/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heliography

http://www.photo-museum.org/niepce-nicephore-daguerre-physautotype/

Focused on Photographs: Meet Gregg McNeill

In this interview, we meet photographer, filmmaker, and educator Gregg McNeill, who joins the PONF team as our key tester of the prototype of the PONF Camera, and leader in the PONF Foundation for Photographic Education, which will provide resources to Fellowship members.  He is currently based in Scotland, but was born in the United States and has lived all over the world, working as a director of photography and photographer on TV and film documentary projects including the acclaimed “Outside The Wire” for The Red, White, And Blue Project, the heartfelt story of soldiers working to make the lives of children better in climate of war in Afghanistan. He has also worked on many other commercial and personal projects. Because of his love of all types of picture-making, from digital filmmaking to traditional (or alternative) photographic processes such as wet plate collodion, we think he is an excellent resource for all of us in the PONF community and his test images are certain to be beautiful. Without further ado, we are pleased to introduce Gregg.

Big Birtch

PONF: Where are you from, where did you grow up? Where are you living now?

Gregg McNeill: I was born in Michigan, grew up in Ohio, moved to Virginia and currently live in Scotland with my wife and daughter.

What is your earliest memory with photography? 

My mother used to take snapshots with a Kodak Instamatic. The ubiquitous form factor of that little camera has stuck with me. It used the blue flashcubes. There were always a few stashed in a drawer in the living room.

Describe your first encounter with digital photography.

I was shooting for a company in Virginia and they had bought a digital camera that I was asked to become proficient in using. It was an early Nikon (I don’t remember the model number).  I was a fairly late adopter of digital photography. This wasn’t intentional, it was just that my personal work wasn’t calling for it. After using several digital cameras, I understood digital’s place in both my professional life as well as my personal work.

Several years ago I was shooting a documentary in Afghanistan. I was shooting both video and stills. There would have been no way to do that job with film. I was a one-man band, with all of my gear carried on my person. In addition to the video gear, I had a Canon 40D (that had just been released), a kit lens, a Nifty-50 and a 35mm 1.4 prime. I shot some of my best portraits with that set-up. Digital was definitely the right tool for that job.

DPP_2360 copyDPP_0088aScreen Shot 2018-01-29 at 1.52.16 PM

I feel like in the last 5 or so years, we’ve gotten beyond the Film VS. Digital debate and that is a good thing for the photographic community in general. Both mediums have their place and we need to remember that. Analogue photography is becoming what it was always meant to be, an artistic medium that can be practiced by anyone. It’s not as cheap as it used to be, but any artistic pursuits never are.

What is your favorite film and camera or image making equipment/process?

That is a tough one.

I have a great affection for the Pentax K-1000. It was my first camera. Its shutter clack has always been comforting to me. The K-1000 is in my opinion the very best student camera ever made. It’s very sturdy and has an accurate meter. The 50mm 1.8 lens that came with mine is a great piece of glass. To this day I still shoot with it.  I love the quality of image this camera and lens produce. When coupled with TMAX 3200 and a high acutance developer. The sandy granularity of the images brings to mind the classic looks of old-school street photography from the 40’s and 50’s.

The Original Holga is right up there. At one time I had 5 of them. Each one had a different personality, photographically. I shot exclusively with them for about 5 years. The removal of the inserts meant that I was framing and exposing to the edge of the film itself, often including the edge numbers of the film in the final image. The focus fall off and vignetting combined with the 6×6 format made this a wonderfully challenging camera to shoot with. It’s tough plastic construction meant that they could sit in the bottom of my bag all the time. 2 or 3 Holgas were my constant companions for many years.

INT Shed

The Bronica ETR always felt really great in my hands. The 2¼ frame was a really nice format for framing objects and people. The tack sharp lens and rectangular frame was a nice compliment to working with the Holga.

Where the Holga taught me to let go and embrace the unknown, The 4×5 Graflex Press Camera brought me back to a place where I had to really slow down with my images and concentrate on the components of the frame again.

IRzembla2

When I took up Wet Plate Collodion, I bought a Vageeswari 10×12, my current favourite. It’s the most simple and honest camera I have ever used. The process of Wet Plate Collodion is the most challenging, frustrating, amazing and fascinating process I have ever done. I constantly feel challenged and right at the edge of my comfort zone. I haven’t been this excited about photography since the first time I got excited about photography over 30 years ago.

Steampunk Charlie - Half-Plate Clear Glass Ambrotype

Favourite film is easy: Medium Format Tri-X Pan ASA320. The tonal gradation and grain structure of that film was always second to none.

What has your career been like? 

I’ve been making images since I was a teenager. My photographic journey has taken me through many film formats (Minox, 35mm, 120mm, Polaroid, Pinhole, LomoKino, 4×5, 8×10, 10×12). I am currently obsessed with the Victorian wetplate Collodion process. I split my time between Corporate Video and Documentary work and Wetplate.

What are some of your favorite or most formative past projects or roles?

My first University photography teacher (whose name has been long since lost in my memory) had a tremendous influence on me in ways I didn’t realize at the time. She instilled in me, among other things, the maxim of framing in camera. So that we couldn’t crop our shots in the darkroom, our first assignment was to hand cut our 35mm negative carriers out of matt board so that the whole frame of our printed work was presented within the grindy uneven frame of the carrier, sometimes showing portions of the sprockets. (I kept that negative carrier and when I later moved to Medium Format, I cut another neg carrier, this time in 6×6, for that very purpose.)

Church Mescal, AZ

This idea of framing in the viewfinder had an enormous effect on my work. It kept me looking at the frame as well as objects within in the frame, moving a step here or there to keep things out of the frame or move things into the frame.

Knowing that whatever I saw would be included in the final print, made me very aware of my subject and it’s relationship to the other objects in the frame.

Another incidental effect this would have on my work was that the edge of the negative carrier and the film frame itself worked as another frame for the image, allowing me to let highlights blow-out on the edges of an image, not having to worry about detail in a bright sky or a streetlamp, to save more important detail in the darker parts of the image. A side effect of this is that the neg carrier became part of the image itself. This would also tune me into experimentation with frames within a frame (the jagged neg carrier would become the frame of the frames within the frames.).

I was working for a media firm in Alexandria, VA. One of their clients, a group that certified sustainable forests, needed images for a new campaign and website. My boss VC1had seen my work on Flickr and asked me to shoot some images of old growth forests and executives in those forests. He told me that he liked the “old-timey” look of my work.

When I started to explain what I would like to do, he stopped me and said, “I don’t understand a word of what you’re saying. Just do whatever you need to do and show me when it’s done.” The only stipulation he added was that he wanted me to take the digital Nikon to shoot backup images of the portraits, just in case. I walked away from that conversation knowing I had the Holy Grail of assignments. It would be one of the best photo experiences of my professional photographic life. The Film tally of that project was: 120mm Tmax 400, 120mm Ilford Delta 3200, 120mm Portra 400 NC, 120mm Portra 400 VC, Polaroid 690, Polaroid 3000 BW , Minox 400 colour, Minox 400 BW, 35mm Portra 400 NC, 35mm Tmax 400, 35mm Tmax 3200. Cameras used: Canon A-1 (28mm 2.8, 50mm 1.4), Canon T-90 (wide zoom), Pentax K-1000 (with a screw-mount East German 400mm f5.6 lens for portraits), Minox B, Holga, Holga fitted with a pinhole, Polaroid 200 Land Camera fitted with a pinhole, Nikon Digital (kit lens)

The first leg of the trip was to Shenandoah National forest. I was awestruck by the size of some of the trees. I came back with several amazing images. I had them scanned by another photographer I knew. This was one of my first experiences with a hybrid process (capturing on film and finishing digitally).

IMG072

The second leg of that trip would be to a National Forest outside of Vancouver, British Columbia. Words fail to describe the beauty I captured there. For the post on this series of images I purchased an Epson Perfection V750 scanner and a wet-scanning kit, as well as several film holders and ANR (anti-newton ring) glass. The library of images for this job was as vast as it was varied. I loved using the different formats and films within the same project and the results were great.

VC3IMG181

How did you get involved with PONF? 

I contacted Rafaello through Instagram when I saw one of his first posts about the project. I told him that I wanted to talk to him about what he was doing and that I’d like to test the camera and help him refine it. We met at a café in Edinburgh for a ‘quick chat’ that ended up being a 2½ hour in-depth conversation about what we loved about film photography, cameras and lenses.

Priory Ruin!

Tell us about your role with the project.

I will be one of the very first testers of the camera, sharing my work along the way, and also will play a key role in the PONF Foundation with a focus (pun intended) on education. I will be co-writing educational materials and leading courses on photography available to members of the PONF Fellowship.

I am very excited to introduce this camera into the world and I’m looking forward to helping new photographers make the most of the PONF system. My personal goals for this project are to get more people shooting and help young photographers to gain enough experience to be able to shoot with intention.

What I mean by this is to visualize the image that you are after and using your knowledge of what your camera, film (or sensor) and chemistry can do, and more importantly they can’t do.  With this level of understanding of your tools, you can more easily make the images you want rather than hoping for something amazing to happen.

John Brewer - Half-Plate Clear Glass Ambrotype

What are you interested in besides photography?

As a filmmaker and photographer, my vocation and my hobby have joined forces to destroy me.

Let’s end with your advice to another photographer but with a twist: Ten words or less or a Haiku.

Know All Of Your Tools

Always Shoot With Intention

Go! Make Images

Thanks Gregg! To follow Gregg’s work, you can check out his wet plate website, Dark Box Images, his commercial photo/video website, Blue Box Images, or you can follow him on Flickr or Instagram. Stay tuned to learn more about the team here at PONF, and the development of the world’s first multi-back 35mm film and digital camera.