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A Saturday afternoon #thread on different historical photographic processes using, in honour of #BlackHistoryMonth, representations of African Americans. Saddle up kids! 👇🏿👇🏿
Daguerreotype is: [African American woman], ca. 1850, unattributed Daguerreotype with applied color, George Eastman Museum, 1969.0201.0020.
In 1839, two practical photographic processes were unveiled to the world: the Daguerreotype, developed by Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre (et al), and the Calotype, developed by Henry Fox Talbot.
Daguerreotypes are images made on thin sheets of silver-faced copper. They are polished (at length, this makes them incredibly sharp images) and then exposed to light-sensitive chemicals before being put into a camera and exposed.
The Daguerreotype is a direct-positive process. It does not give a negative that can be reproduced into positives. The modern equivalent today is a Polaroid print. You can tell a Daguerreotype b/c when you hold one, the surface is so shiny it's like looking in a mirror.
When I was in Paris in 2014, I was lucky enough to visit the Societe Francais de Photographie and view one of the oldest extant Daguerreotypes in the world. Today it's basically just a mirror, and gives visitors a chuckle.
I did try to find an example of a Calotype representing African Americans. However, my best efforts were foiled. Does anyone know of any? If I had looked further into extremely racist ethnographic "studies" on an international scale, I might have had luck.
Talbot's Calotype, though, was essentially a process to make a negative on paper. It didn't make for incredibly sharp images, unless the paper was coated w/ wax. The Calotype is an extremely difficult process (read: I'm terrible at it).
By 1851, Frederick Scott Archer took the best of both processes: the sharpness of the Daguerreotype and the reproduce-able nature of the Calotype, and developed the wet-collodion glass plate negative.
This invention lead us to: the Ambrotype - a wet-collodion negative that's taken on black glass that gives the illusion of being a positive.
Ambrotypes are: [Black soldier seated with pistol in hand], 1860-1870, LOC, AMB/TIN no. 1323 [P&P] & [Unidentified African American soldier in Union uniform with wife and two daughters], ca. 1863, LOC AMB/TIN no. 5001 [P&P]
Another wet collodion method is to shoot on thin sheets of metal, a process resulting in what's called a Tintype. The tintype was one of the more affordable photographic processes, and very popular during the American Civil War b/c of their relative affordability and durability.
Tintype is: [Half-length portrait of an African American woman wearing a hat and holding parasol], between 1861-70, unattributed, LOC AMB/TIN no. 1334 [P&P].
Wet collodion glass plate negs could also be printed as positives on paper. The mid-1850s saw the development of two popular paper prints: salted paper, and albumen. Again, I had trouble finding salted paper prints of African Americans, but they undoubtedly exist.
At the same time, if you work with collections of photographs of everyday 19th century people you'll come across a LOT of albumen prints. There are different recipes for all of the processes I'm mentioning, but albumen always contains egg whites.
It's also the smelliest photograph process I've ever encountered in my life. However, you quite simply mix the albumen solution, coat it on your printing paper, and it holds the light-sensitive silver to the sheet.
Albumen prints often turn yellow over time, and can be very prone to fading. Early photographers got together to talk about how to make their images on paper last longer. They realized they could tone them using a further variety of chemicals - a popular one is gold.
Albumen prints are: [Three-quarter-length portrait of an African American woman] / F. Forshew, Hudson, N.Y., 1870-80, LOC LOT 14022, no. 103 [P&P], [Two African American boys] /J. D. Heywood's Photographic Art Rooms, New Berne, N.C., 1860-70, LOT 14022, no. 162 [P&P]
You'll often notice that gold-toned albumen prints turn a beautiful and rich purple. This is why historians of photography always say that pre-colour film photographs are never really black and white.
Around the turn of the century, further developments meant that it was more common to use gelatin as a substance to hold light-sensitive silver to glass, film, or paper. All of the photographs I post of the #FWW are gelatin silver prints, the most common process of the time.
(Spoiler alert. They're still not actually black and white). Gelatin silver print is: [Two unidentified African American soldiers in uniforms and overseas caps on motorcycle with sidecar], ca. 1917, Library of Congress LOT 14183-1, no. 17 [P&P]
Gelatin silver print: [Two unidentified African American soldiers in uniforms, greatcoats, and overseas caps in front of painted backdrop], ca. 1917, unattributed, Library of Congress LOT 14183-1, no. 15 [P&P] #warphotos
Commerical photographic papers with optical brighteners to create very white whites and, by contrast, very black blacks, were not available to the public until the 1950s. This is why pre-colour photographs are always 👏🏿still 👏🏿colour👏🏿 even if they aren't scanned that way.
/Thus concludes another weekly ramble, punctuated with illustrations.
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