The Photographic Process

The Photographic Process

In a world of instant digital photos and on demand graphic manipulation, the photographic process may not be the most convenient, but what it lacks in immediacy it makes up for in character, skill and charm.

Glass plate photography, known as collodoion printing, was an incredibly involved and complicated process. In the early stages, glass plates were coated with a thick, syrupy, highly flammable liquid mixed with bromide, iodine or chloride salts. This light sensitive solution was poured onto glass plates that needed to be exposed and developed while still wet. This meant that photographers of the era concocted mobile darkrooms so they could rapidly develop their images in the spot before the plate could dry.

Though cumbersome and clunky, the photographic process still fascinated many, and wet collodion printing remained the standard until 1864, when it was discovered that a solution of gelatin could suspend the silver particles onto glass plates, so they could be exposed and developed while dry. The introduction of the dry plate process also meant that pre-coated glass plates could be mass produced. In 1867 the Liverpool Dry Plate and Photographic Printing Company began distributing the first “collodio-bromide” dry plates to the legions of photographers who were eagerly awaiting the end of the era of wet plates and mobile darkrooms.

Despite this radical and revolutionary development, taking photographs was still a daunting task. Cameras were typically massive machines made of heavy wood and metal. Tripods were essential, as were dark cloths, and now stacks of pre-coated glass plates. The work of a photographer was not only a highly technical process, but also physically demanding of both the photographers and the subjects, who often had to remain perfectly still for extended periods of time to ensure a sharp image.

The fascinating thing about these glass negatives is in their ability to stand the test of time, and years of neglect, remaining vibrant, intricate and interesting. Glass negatives, unlike film, contain no film grain, making the enlargement process that much more rewarding, as the image remains as sharp and clear at 20x24 as it is in its original size. These negatives were never meant to be enlarged, as the technology to change the size of the image did not exist at the time. While many of the images we have rediscovered in this collection have never been printed before, they certainly have never been enlarged. We are proud to have the opportunity to give these images a new life and to uncover the intricacies of this forgotten photographic process.

View and order prints from the Paul Krot Community Darkroom at AS220.

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