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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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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.

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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.

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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

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.

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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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