The Photographic Process

The Photographic Process

During the development of the Wonder Show, we faced quite a few technical challenges. All of the images came from the Providence Public Library’s archive of glass plate negatives, dating from the 1890’s to the 1920’s. This time period was a pivotal one in how we view modern photography today. The dry plate – a pane of glass with light sensitive silver nitrate suspended in a coat of gelatin – was revolutionary in early photography. This type of plate could be treated like modern films, exposed and processed within a few months. Prior to this, the medium was limited to daguerreotypes and wet plate collodion, both of which, apart from being incredibly toxic – a daguerreotype image had to be processed in the fumes of boiling mercury  – required immediate exposure and development. This prevented the photographer from being able to travel far from his studio. The dry plate was essentially modern film but predated the invention of plastics, which led to the development of roll film such as 35mm or medium format.

To produce an authentic magic lantern show, we had to use the medium of traditional film photography. No digital projection would suffice in duplicating the experience, or match the quality of a traditional slide projection of silver gelatin film. The Old Hollywood term “Silver Screen” comes from the fact that the viewer was looking at silver gelatin film being projected and not a digital facsimile like in movie theaters today.

The Library images were all glass plate negatives, made by unknown photographers with the original intention of making positive prints. To make magic lantern slides, we needed photographs that could be projected, and in order to do this we had to create positive film through the process of contact-printing the century old negatives onto a type of orthochromatic film (film not sensitive to red light) that could be used in the darkroom as easily as traditional photographic paper. A problem we faced in this process is the lack of adequate orthochromatic films currently being manufactured today. With digital photography taking 95% of film photographic materials off the market, the film we used was originally made in the 1980’s for the manufacture of early microchips but acted superior to current films available on the market today.

My role in the project as director of photography was to create the film positives directly from the negatives lent from the archives using traditional materials. In my studio I developed beautiful positive duplicates of these one of a kind negatives to create as authentic of a magic lantern experience as possible.

- Brett Henrikson
Director of Photography

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