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.

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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.

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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.

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(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/

The Man Behind the Camera: Meet PONF Founder Raffaello Palandri

In our interview series introducing the different members of the PONF team, you might have started to wonder who was the creator of this ambitious, innovative company. Rest assured, we didn’t forget about Raf, he has just been SO busy behind the scenes in thousands of hours of meetings, strategy development, and research, that we weren’t able to share this interview with you until now, but here it is! Without further ado: introducing PONF’s founder and director, Raffaello Palandri.

A lifelong user of film and digital cameras, Raffaello also brings to PONF many years of wisdom in leading large, complex IT projects. He applies this knowledge of quality, teams and systems to execute his vision and successfully create a camera that many others have talked about for years but never quite managed to bring fully to market. He is busily networking within the photography industry to create a new kind of camera company, one that is a friend and collaborator of all, to create a future for film photography that is sustainable and accessible to all.

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

I was born in Florence, Italy (its Italian name is Firenze), but I grew up mostly in Rome. When I started working on the idea of an innovative camera, I had the luck of finding in my best friend, my soulmate, Tiziana. To start the PONF Multiback Open Camera Project we moved to Dunfermline, Scotland, the old Capital of Scotland, before Edinburgh got the job. After the vote on Brexit, we decided to move to Germany, and after a few weeks in search of the perfect spot, we chose Nuremberg, Bavaria (and to be more precise in Middle Franconia).

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What is your earliest memory with photography?

I have memories of me keeping my mum’s Olympus Pen when I was probably only 4 years old. I still have that camera, and I love its silent shutter and the pleasant smell of the leather bag, that reminds me my family and my childhood.

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Describe your first encounter with digital photography.

My first digital camera has been the Konica Minolta Dynax (Maxxum in the USA) 5D. I still use as avatar a selfie taken with that camera. I was amazed by the technology, having always been the guy that disassembled everything he had on his hands. So, I started shooting both film and digital, never leaving film, though.

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

Apart from PONF? I love 6×6 cameras and, being a collector, I developed a passion for TLRs (twin lens reflex). I love their design, the sound of their shutter.
For image making, 4×5 is a really lovable format. It generates fantastic images, and you can do everything at home, development and printing.

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What has your career been like? What are some of your favorite or most formative past projects or roles?

I had the luck of getting good experience in managing projects, including very large ones. I think I had many different roles on the same ladder. I have always worked in IT related jobs/projects, from really humble roles to managing ones. What I always loved about working in IT is the huge potential computers have in helping us, if we are able not to lose our humanity searching profit. I have been a quality manager, and from that role I have learned how to follow any process in detail, something that now is becoming essential in the development of our camera.

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How did you get involved with PONF?

I had the idea, I did the research, and I bootstrapped the company until now. I have been lucky in finding many people interested in the project, including the many companies and institutions which are supporting us in different ways. We are building up a team, and that’s important. I would like to find our project, in a five years time, deeply rooted in the photographic industry and development. We are investing to help people learn how to make better photographs, how to write with light.

 

Tell us about your role with the project, recent successes, in progress developments, etc.

Formally I am the director of the company that runs the project and the head of R&D. Using less official words, I am one of the team who is developing this amazing camera.
We are generating a lot of interest around the project, making every day steps forward, learning from our mistakes, considering them as opportunities to better learn. We are now teaming up with amazing companies, amazing institutions, amazing people. We can boldly say that we are small, but we are growing strong.

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What are you interested in besides photography?

Well, I am Curiosity with a capital C. I am an avid reader, and I usually read 150 books per year, in addition to those required by my job. I am a tinkerer, I like to touch things and learn how they work to improve them. I love calligraphy and collect writing instruments. Apart from that, I relax practicing meditation (one day I will come back to teach it) and ki development.

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

Follow the light
the one outside you
the one inside

Great Haiku! Thanks Raf. You can drop Raf a line at raffaello@ponfcamera.com, and follow him at his website, Twitter, Instagram, and blog, as well as on the PONF Facebook, Instagram, and newsletter. So many ways to get in touch! 

Design in Mind: Meet Industrial Designer Vincent Bihler

In this interview, we meet Vincent Bihler, another creative with many talents to join the PONF team. Vincent is an award winning industrial designer who’s brought many products to life, all the way from concept to execution and looks forward to applying the many principles on form and function he’s learned along the way to the PONF Camera. He is currently building the first proof of concept for the first analog back of the PONF system.

He brings to the project plenty to experience with cameras as he’s been an avid film photographer since he was introduced to the medium at age 16, just before leaving home to study Industrial Design. Since then, he’s honed these two crafts equally, developing especially an impressive eye for photographic scale and space. When asked to name his favorite film and format, he quickly named several classic, photophile’s dream setups, so we are confident he will deliver nothing but excellence in the creation of the PONF Camera, a new classic standard in analog and digital photography! 

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

I am from France and grew up in Elsass, very close to the German and Swiss borders. I then moved to the region of Bordeaux, where the famous wine is produced. I also lived in north of France, in Sweden, then back in Paris, and now Lyon… So many places have built the person I am.

What is your earliest memory with photography?

I was offered my first camera at age 16, it all started from there. A little bit later, I found a beautiful Canon AE1 in a flea market, early in the morning. I could not stop shooting with these nice cameras!

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Describe your first encounter with digital photography.

Digital came later. I tried Fuji cameras at first to keep the film look, then I used Nikons for paid studio work. I think their versatility is king there.

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

Easy… Portra 400 and Rolleiflex 2.8F… Or Ilford Delta 100 and Leica M4 + Summicron 35 iv King of Bokeh… Or Trix and 21 Skopar f4 ? … Or Pentax 6×7 with whatever?!

What has your career been like? What are some of your favorite or most formative past projects or roles?

I’ve been mostly working as a product and industrial designer. For 4 years I worked at a French tech company called Parrot. I developed some of their latest products to date from scratch: first drawings, ergonomical and usage considerations, shape intentions to the industrialisation with many trips to Hong-Kong Shenzhen for quality controls on the production line. I now have joined a product and industrial design firm (entreautre.com) where I am leading the development of several innovative projects.

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How did you decide to become an industrial designer? Can you say a little bit about what it’s like to follow all the steps in the process of creating a thing from idea to execution?

As long as I can remember, I’ve always been thinking of stuff I could build to fulfill my needs. I built a whole guitar at age 15, because I needed something versatile enough to play different kinds of music with a single instrument. That story actually is quite similar to PONF, right? During my studies (mechanical engineering) I had the opportunity to take several design courses which led me to a specialization in that field for my last year. I went to Sweden where I tried to catch this legendary Scandinavian influence… I was then hired at my first job as an industrial designer after the 2013 James Dyson Awards. I participated with a good friend and won the National 1st prize.

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How did you get involved with PONF?

I contacted Raffaello after having seen that they were looking for people that would like to get involved in the development of the PONF Camera. It was great timing! 😊

Tell us about your role with the project, recent successes, in progress developments, etc.

I’m in charge of industrial and mechanical design. We’re currently building a first proof of concept, which is a very simple mechanism that allows us to prove how practical the product will be.

Are you working on analog or digital components or both?

Right now, I am working on analog “mechanical” components. But these will be useful for the digital back also.

Have you always wanted to design a camera or have you ever designed a camera before? Can you talk a bit about what you’re taking into consideration?

5I’ve been thinking about something similar for a long time, but so far, the tech wasn’t ready. My considerations about this project: I don’t think we can fit everyone’s needs with a single object. This is a simple ergonomic rule. Designing a whole ecosystem that leads to strong products clearly different from one to another and that will fit a precise application is the key. I will make no compromise in that direction. We don’t want to see another Frankencamera that is too cumbersome for street photography, nor a Coolpix lacking flexibility for studio shooting…

What are you interested in besides photography?

Design! I love that. I have been playing guitar for a while now… Oh, and film photography rocks.

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

Less is more 😉

Thanks Vincent! To see more of Vincent’s work, visit his website or follow him on Instagram.