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Prof. Boerner's Explorations

Thoughts and Essays that explore the world of Technology, Computers, Photography, History and Family.

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Category: Photographer’s Profiles
by Gerald Boerner

  

JerryPhoto_8x8_P1010031 Early in the history of photography, most portraits were taken using the Daguerreotype process. This process was slow, created a positive image only, and was very susceptible to light. And, oh yes, the development of these images required the use of Mercury, a toxic substance.

Concurrently, other processes were being developed in the U.K. by Fox Talbot. His process produced a negative on paper coated with a light-sensitive silver layer. These images were of relatively poor quality until into the 1850s, when the development process was refined. However, the collodion process became the dominant during the period of 1855 to 1890.

In the early days of this collodion process, its primary use was in creating “one off” process images. The Ambrotype process used glass plates were coated with the collodion, the plate was dipped into a silver solution and the plate was exposed; generally these images were underexposed to produce a suitable image. Upon development, the image was coated with black so that the unexposed parts of the image appeared dark and the exposed part of the image appeared gray.

Another way of using this collodion process in the early years was the Tintype. This used a polished metal plate (not silver-coated like the Daguerreotype) for coating with the collodion and developing. These were popular through the 1860s, but quickly replaced in professional use by the large format, wet-plate process and the improvement of the printing technologies.  GLB

    

“All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.”
— Richard Avedon

“All my life I’ve taken photographs of people who are completely at peace being what they were in the situations I photographed them in.”
— Jock Sturges

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by Gerald Boerner

  

JerryPhoto_8x8_P1010031 Today, we continue our examination of the Wet-Plate Collodion Process that transformed the photographic process. From 1855 to 1880, this process became the dominant way of creating images. It requires a two-step process: Step 1— Create a negative with collodion-coated plates of glass exposed in a camera and then immediately developed while still wet followed by Step 2 — Create one or more prints using coated paper to create a positive image.

The Wet-Plate Collodion Process produced images that were as good or better than those produced by the daguerreotype. This wet-plate process is not as simple as either of its predecessors, but did allow for the creation of beautiful, accurate, and durable negatives on glass plates. From these negatives, multiple prints could be created that had high fidelity to the original negative.

The downside to this process was the inconvenience of using it. The plates must be exposed while still wet and developed immediately thereafter. The collodion mixture used to coat the plates was both flammable and explosive. But the chemicals used to develop the images were not poisonous, unless, of course, one used the potassium cyanide variation of the process!

But, probably the best feature of the methodology was that it reduced the exposure requirements down to a few seconds rather than the minute or more often required by prior processes. So join me in looking at the details of the process. We will look at the technical and conceptual elements of this process next time.  GLB

    

“The darkroom is just the means to an end.”
— Kim Weston

“The future of photography does not lie in the cheapness but in the quality of a picture. If a photograph is beautiful, complete, and durable, it acquires an intrinsic value before which its price disappears entirely. For my part, it is my wish that photography, rather than falling into domain of industry or of commerce, might remain in that of art. That is its only true place, and I shall always seek to make it progress in that direction.”
— Gustav Le Gray

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by Gerald Boerner

  

JerryPhoto_8x8_P1010031 Yesterday we considered the printing process utilized by most of the early photographers from the development of the first successful process by Daguerre (France) and Fox Talbot (England). These processes were based upon the use of Printing-Out Paper (POP) to create their images. This POP process did not require the use of developers to bring out the image; only a rinse to remove the excess silver ions from the media was required, although gold or platinum toning was traditionally used with this approach.

Today we move on to the examination of the Developing-Out Paper (DOP) process that does require the development of either the negative or positive or both. The exposed sensitized media is exposed to weak light and then the “latent image” is developed in special chemicals to allow the exposed areas to release the silver salts and the unexposed areas bind the silver salts. The result is a negative where the light areas are clear and the dark areas are opaque.

The second step in this sequence is to place the negative on top of a sensitized sheet of paper and expose it to a light source. The image on paper comes out as a positive where the light areas are light and the dark areas are dark. This sheet must then be processed through a developer, an acid bath (usually using citric acid), and the the excess, unbound silver salts are removed. The print is then washed to remove any fixer that might remain in the paper layer.

This finished print is then ready for display after matting and framing it. Most current photographic processes used in today’s wet darkrooms use this two-step, developing-out paper process.  GLB

    

“The photographic image… is a message without a code.”
— Roland Barthes

“I was extravagant in the matter of cameras – anything photographic – I had to have the best. But that was to further my work. In most things I have gone along with the plainest – or without.”
— Edward Weston

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by Gerald Boerner

  

JerryPhoto_8x8_P1010031 Most of today’s population, at those older than twenty years-old, will remember the sequence required to obtain prints of our family and vacation photographs. First, we bought the film in conveniently-packaged rolls. We would insert this film into our camera and take our pictures. We then would carefully rewind the film into its protective canister so that it would not be “wiped out”. We then took it to our local film processing store for development and printing of the frames. Simple, isn’t it?

Well, if we look back at the first 60 years of the use of photography, we would find a very different situation. There were no stores that sold film ready-to-use; negative film was not introduced until the 1880s! If we wanted to take a picture, we would first select our media: a polished metal plate for the Daguerreotypes and high-quality fiber paper. We would then put one or more coatings onto the media, the final of which coated the surface with light-sensitive silver compounds.

Once the picture was taken, the exposed surface needed to have the light-activated silver saved and the unexposed silver removed. There were two methods of accomplishing this: Printing-Out and Developing-Out. Today’s post will focus upon the first of these. We will examine the latter process tomorrow.

For the first fifteen years of photography (from 1839 to the mid-1850s), The dominant processes used the Printing-Out process. In the case of the Daguerreotype, this involved using Mercury to remove the excess silver from the photographs. In the case of the wet-place negatives (Ambrotypes and Collodion), the photo must be made when the surface on the glass plates were still wet and fixed immediately in a salt solution and then washed to remove the excess silver. The paper negatives of the Calotype was similarly processed.

When either the wet-plates or the Calotypes then required a second step: exposing and printing positive prints from the negatives. By reference, the Daguerreotypes did NOT require a second step since the image created was a positive, not a negative. The sensitized paper used in this early period created a positive image by Printing-Out the positive after toning the image, removing excess silver with a fixer, and washing throughly. No development step was required. These images were very susceptible to fading and deterioration if not washed completely.

The rest of this post discusses the Printing-Out process for photographic prints of positives, but applies as well to the printing-out of images of any image, negative or positive.  GLB

    

“The photographic image… is a message without a code.”
— Roland Barthes

“I was extravagant in the matter of cameras – anything photographic – I had to have the best. But that was to further my work. In most things I have gone along with the plainest – or without.”
— Edward Weston

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by Gerald Boerner

  

JerryPhoto_8x8_P1010031 Up till 1851 the two processes in use were the daguerreotype and the calotype. Daguerreotypes were better than calotypes in terms of detail and quality, but could not be reproduced; calotypes were reproducible, but suffered from the fact that any print would also show the imperfections of the paper. (R. Leggat)

In a nutshell, this describes the transition from the Daguerreotype and Calotype to the Wet-Plate Collodion Process. This latter process is not as simple as either of its predecessors, but did allow for the creation of beautiful, accurate, and durable negatives on glass plates. From these negatives, multiple prints could be created that had high fidelity to the original negative.

The downside to this process was the inconvenience of using it. The plates must be exposed while still wet and developed immediately thereafter. The collodion mixture used to coat the plates was both flammable and explosive. But the chemicals used to develop the images were not poisonous, unless, of course, one used the potassium cyanide variation of the process!

But, probably the best feature of the methodology was that it reduced the exposure requirements down to a few seconds rather than the minute or more often required by prior processes. So join me in looking at the details of the process. We will look at the technical and conceptual elements of this process next time.  GLB

    

“The darkroom is just the means to an end.”
— Kim Weston

“The future of photography does not lie in the cheapness but in the quality of a picture. If a photograph is beautiful, complete, and durable, it acquires an intrinsic value before which its price disappears entirely. For my part, it is my wish that photography, rather than falling into domain of industry or of commerce, might remain in that of art. That is its only true place, and I shall always seek to make it progress in that direction.”
— Gustav Le Gray

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by Gerald Boerner

  

JerryPhoto_8x8_P1010031 Building on the work of Joseph Niépce, Louis Daguerre developed a photographic process that was capable of capturing reality and saving it as a photograph. In the beginning of the photographic technology, the Daguerreotype was the process of preference for portraits. For the first time the average worker was able to obtain a picture of family members and loved ones without incurring the cost and time it took for a painted portrait.

The industrial revolution produced changes in society that provided the common person with a wage for the first time. These remembrances in the form of daguerreotypes provided a way of documenting peoples’ lives. True, these images were not easy to duplicate (if at all), but they were more than anything that was available to the general population previously.

In addition, there were a handful of daguerreotypists who were able to capture beautiful landscapes. While these latter photographers were not as plentiful as those making portraits, they produced some very memorable images.

This technology lasted from 1839 through the mid-1850s when other technologies became available. None the less, we have Niépce and Daguerre to thank for these amazing images..  GLB

    

“The first mentioned is the good old daguerreotype, with its perfection, its beauty, its accuracy, and its prompt execution. It has never been excelled by any production of the camera.”
— Abraham Bogardus

“Good artists hate good photographs, where every object on the field is reproduced with wonderful distinctness; but will go into raptures over an under-timed one, in which the high lights break weirdly out from broad masses of shadow; or an over-timed one wherein light and atmosphere have saturated everything to grayness.”
— Harry L.A. Culmer

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by Gerald Boerner

  

JerryPhoto_8x8_P1010031 It has often been said that the early photographers were either scientists (in the broadest sense) or artists. In the case of Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, he was a scientist who dabbled in art. Ironically, he began his developmental process in an attempt to get an image from a camera obscura without needing the steady hand required to trace over the image; he did not have the steady hand of an artist.

He began with a photogravure process which led him to experiment with using different chemical solutions to “develop” his images. He continued this process to where he produced the first negative image and then the first positive image before 1830, ten years before Daguerre or Fox Talbot were able to accomplish the same thing!

He arrived at a process that worked and joined forces with Daguerre. Their collaboration brought most of the recognition and economic benefits to Daguerre, much to the displeasure of his son. But his experimentation and photographic work mad him a pioneer in the definition of Photography, which he called Heliographs, or “drawing with the sun.”

Thank you, Monsieur Niépce, for your generous contribution to the art and science of photography.  GLB

    

“In a word I was a pioneer, and therefore had to blaze my own trail.”
— Major Taylor

“Genius is the very eye of intellect and the wing of thought; it is always in advance of its time, and is the pioneer for the generation which it precedes.”
— William Gilmore Simms

by Gerald Boerner

  

JerryPhoto_8x8_P1010031 At the beginning of photography, it appeared to be a miracle that one could let light into a little (or not so little) box that held a light-sensitive material upon which the image passing through the “lens” of the primitive camera. We can still obtain such pin-hole cameras! However, this primitive camera would not satisfy those wanting to obtain images of their family members as a result of the industrial revolution.

Before the early innovators of photographic processes, Louis Daguerre and William Henry Fox Talbot, could produce their amazing “light drawings,” they needed a means of refining the process of focusing the light on the sensitized media in the camera.

An early Russian photographer, Sergei Levitsky, developed the concept of the bellows. This bellows allowed the distance between the photographic lens and the recording media to be adjusted for optimal sharpness. As a result, Daguerre, Fox Talbot, and others were able to record their images. Thank you, Mr. Levitsky.  GLB

    

“Photography is a major force in explaining man to man.”
— Edward Steichen

“People don’t have time to wait for somebody to paint their portraits anymore. The money is in photography.”
— Robert Mapplethorpe

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by Gerald Boerner

  

JerryPhoto_8x8_P1010031 Today we launch into a new series on the history and technologies of photography. We will NOT be talking about using a digital camera in this series, nor will we be talking about how to process your image through Photoshop. We are going to focus upon the techniques developed for the darkroom from the middle of the 19th century.

We will, of course, look at the pioneers like Niépce, Daguerre and Fox Talbot. But we will be looking at others who advanced the tools of the photographer as well. We will especially look at the “wet” darkroom techniques used to capture the image on some sort of permanent media (coated metal, glass, film, or paper) and the ways in which these original images are duplicated in the darkroom.

Consequently, we will look also at the daguerreotype, calotype, glass plate, and film media as well as the salt paper printing, Platinum-Palladium printing, the silver gelatin printing and other such technologies. Photography has provided a wealth of techniques for the capture and reproduction of images, and no period was more exciting or varied than the second half of the 19th century.

We will, therefore, be primarily focused on this time period.  GLB

    

“I have seized the light. I have arrested its flight.”
— Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre

“For me the printing process is part of the magic of photography. It’s that magic that can be exciting, disappointing, rewarding and frustrating all in the same few moments in the darkroom.”
— John Sexton

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by Gerald Boerner

  

JerryPhoto_8x8_P1010031 Oscar Gustave Rejlander, the Swedish artist and photographer, was a participant in the early developments of the technology. Trained in the techniques of Fox Talbot, he became skilled at the use of both his artist’s eye and photographic medium to create complex photographs composed by superimposing multiple negatives onto a single print to create a “super” images.

And he did this in an era of paper negatives and glass plates and relatively slow processes. His choice of topics for his photographs often offended the Victorian sensibilities of the era. Only the purchase of one of his images by Queen Victoria for Prince Albert quieted his detractors!  GLB

    

“Photographers never have much incentive to show the world as it is.”
— William Leith

“Results are uncertain even among the more experienced photographers.”
— Matthew Brady

“There must be a reason why photographers are not very good at verbal communication. I think we get lazy.”
— Annie Leibovitz

“These days, most nature photographers are deeply committed to the environmental message.”
— Galen Rowell

“Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again.”
— Henri Cartier-Bresson

“They often ask me to shoot for them. But I say no. I think an old guy like me ought not take pages away from young photographers who need the exposure.”
— Helmut Newton

“We look at the world and see what we have learned to believe is there. We have been conditioned to expect… but, as photographers, we must learn to relax our beliefs.”
— Aaron Siskind

“Some photographers take reality… and impose the domination of their own thought and spirit. Others come before reality more tenderly and a photograph to them is an instrument of love and revelation.”
— Ansel Adams

  

Note:
This posting is intended for the educational use of photographers and photography students and complies with the “educational fair use” provisions of copyright law. For readers who might wish to reuse some of these images should check out their compliance with copyright limitations that might apply to that use.

GLB

  

Oscar Gustave Rejlander

Oscar_Rejlander Oscar Gustave Rejlander (1813 – 1875) was a pioneering Victorian art photographer. Rejlander was a Swede who studied painting in Italy. He settled in England in the 1840s, and inspired by one of Fox Talbot’s assistants he turned his energies to photography, round about 1855, living first in Wolverhampton, later in London.

Biography

His exact date of birth is uncertain, but was probably 1813. He was the son of Carl Gustaf Rejlander, a stonemason and Swedish Army Officer. He studied art in Rome where he saw photographs of the sights, and then initially settled in Lincoln, England. He abandoned his original profession as a painter and portrait miniaturist, apparently after seeing how well a photograph captured the fold of a sleeve. Other accounts say he was inspired by one of Fox Talbot’s assistants.

He set up as a portraitist in the industrial Midlands town of Wolverhampton, probably around 1846. Around 1850 he learned the wet-collodion and waxed-paper processes at great speed with Nicholas Henneman in London, and then changed his business to that of a photography studio. He undertook genre work and portraiture. He also created erotic work, using as models the circus girls of Mme Wharton, street children and child prostitutes – his Charlotte Baker series remains notorious.

Perfecting Photography

Alfred_Tennyson,_1st_Baron_Tennyson_and_family Rejlander undertook many experiments to perfect his photography, including combination printing from around 1853, which it is possible he may have invented. He was a friend of photographer Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (better know by the nom de plume Lewis Carroll), who collected Rejlander’s early child work and corresponded with him on technical matters. Rejlander later created one of the best known & most revealing portraits of Dodgson.

His early work only slightly sullied his later reputation, and he participated in the Paris Exhibition of 1855. In 1857 he made his best-known allegorical work, The Two Ways of Life. This was a seamlessly montaged combination print made of thirty-two images (akin to the use of Photoshop today, but then far more difficult to achieve) in about six weeks. First exhibited at the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857, the work shows two youths being offered guidance by a patriarch. Each youth looks toward a section of a stage-like tableaux vivant – one youth is shown the virtuous pleasures and the other the sinful pleasures. The image’s partial nudity was deemed ‘indecent’ by some – and those familiar with Rejlander’s more commercial work might also suspect that prostitutes had been used as cheap models. But the ‘indecency’ faded when Queen Victoria ordered a 10-guinea copy to give to Prince Albert.

Alfred_Tennyson,_1st_Baron_Tennyson Despite this royal patronage, controversy about The Two Ways of Life in strait-laced Scotland in 1858 led to a secession of a large group from the Photographic Society of Scotland, the secessionists founding the Edinburgh Photographic Society in 1861. They objected to the picture being shown with one half of it concealed by drapes. The picture was later shown at the Birmingham Photographic Society with no such furore or censorship. However the Photographic Society of Scotland later made amends and invited Rejlander to a grand dinner in his honour in 1866, held to open an exhibition that included many of his pictures.

The success of The Two Ways of Life, and membership of the Royal Photographic Society of London, gave him an entree into London respectability. He moved his studio to Malden Road, London around 1862 and further experimented with double exposure, photomontage, photographic manipulation and retouching. He became a leading expert in photographic techniques, lecturing and publishing widely, and sold portfolios of work through bookshops and art dealers. He also found subject-matter in London, photographing homeless London street children to produce popular ‘social-protest’ pictures such as "Poor Joe" and "Homeless".

YoungHallamTennyson He married Mary Bull in 1862, who was twenty-four years his junior. Mary had been his photographic model in Wolverhampton since she was aged 14.

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson visited Rejlander’s Malden Road studio in 1863 and was inspired to set up his own studio. Around 1863 Rejlander visited the Isle of Wight and collaborated with Julia Margaret Cameron.

Some of Rejlander’s images were purchased as drawing-aids to Victorian painters of repute, such as Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema. In 1872 his photography illustrated Darwin’s classic treatise on The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.

He became seriously ill from about 1874. Rejlander died in 1875 with several claims on his estate, and costly funeral expenses. The Edinburgh Photographic Society raised money for his widow on Rejlander’s death, and helped set up the Rejlander Memorial Fund.

Rejlander’s ideas and techniques were taken up by other photographers and this, to some extent, justifies labelling him as the father of art photography.

Interpreting Life

His most famous photograph is allegorical; called "The two ways of life", it depicts a sage guiding two young men towards manhood. One looks with some eagerness towards gambling, wine, prostitution and idling, whilst the other looks (with somewhat less enthusiasm!) towards figures representing religion, industry, families and good works. In the centre appears the veiled, partly clothed figure symbolising repentance and turning towards the good.

rejlander-2-ways

Shown in 1857 at an exhibition in Manchester, it provoked considerable controversy. Victorians were quite used to the portrayal of nakedness in paintings and sculptures, but photographs were so true to life that even though the posing was discreet, this was too much. At one stage this photograph went to Scotland to be exhibited and, so the story goes, the picture was considered so controversial that the left hand side of the picture was concealed, only the right side being shown. However, there were others who saw in this picture a valiant attempt to use photography in a domain which up to that time painters had dominated, and when Queen Victoria purchased a copy for her husband (at ten guineas), this seemed to make his photograph respectable!

Such a picture would have required a large studio and an immense amount of light. What makes this photograph such a remarkable piece of work is that the event never took place, because it is a combination print using a number of negatives – no fewer than thirty. The groups were photographed individually, the models being strolling players.

The print itself is huge (30" by 16"). A reviewer in Photographic Notes (28 April 1857) described it as:

"….magnificent….decidedly the finest photograph of its class ever pronounced…"

In 1858 Rejlander read a paper to the Photographic Society, outlining the meaning of every figure in the photograph. Henry Peach Robinson, writing about him, found that his honesty and helpfulness sometimes went awfully wrong:

"With the generous intention of being of use to photographers, and to further the cause of art he, unfortunately, described the method by which the picture had been done; the little tricks and dodges to which he had to resort; how, for want of classic architecture for his background, he had to be content with a small portico in a friend’s garden; how bits of drapery had to do duty for voluminous curtains….

(He) thereby gave the clever critics the clue they wanted, and enabled the little souls to declare that the picture was only a thing of shreds and patches. It is so much easier to call a picture a patchwork combination than to understand the inner meaning of so superb a work as this masterpiece of Rejlander’s!"

Rejlander, a man who, Robinson said, was never known to use a word that would hurt the feelings of others, was clearly crushed by this reaction:

"the time will come when a work will be judged on its merits, not by the method of production….."

The theme of this famous print most will now find quaint, but his painstaking perseverance no-one can help but admire greatly. It had taken Rejlander and his wife no less than six weeks to produce it (one could only print by daylight) and the exposures were up to two hours, each very carefully done with masks.

Incidentally, there are two versions of this picture. In the second one the Philosopher is looking towards the side that shows virtue. We are not told why this second print was made, but given the nature of the subject it may well be that someone had pointed out to the poor couple that the Philosopher himself seemed more interested in vice than on virtue, so they felt obliged to have another go at printing it!

Another popular one is a self-portrait depicting Rejlander the Artist introducing Rejlander the volunteer. The double exposure is not so successful; in the centre, on the lower part of the floor, one can see a darker tone where he has evidently attempted to shade the print.

Expression_of_the_Emotions_Plate_IV Rejlander, in fact, produced a number of pictures on other themes, and Charles Darwin used him to illustrate his book entitled "The expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals" (1872).

Some of Rejlander’s photographs are not very dissimilar from Surrealist photographs of the 1920s.

Rejlander was an inventive person. His studio was unusual; shaped like a cone, the camera would be in the narrow part, the sitters at the opposite end. The camera was in shadow so that the sitters were less aware of it. It is said that he used to estimate his exposure by bringing his cat into the studio; if the cat’s eyes were like slits he would give use a fairly short exposure. If they were a little more open than usual he would give extra exposure, whilst if the pupils were totally dilated he would admit defeat, put the lens cap on the lens and go out for a walk! This interesting man must surely be the first person to use a cat as an exposure meter!

A number of his pictures were bought by Prince Albert. However, Rejlander remained in poverty. In 1859 he wrote:

"I am tired of photography-for-the-public, particularly composite photographs, for there can be no gain and there is no honour, only cavil and misrepresentation."

He eventually returned to painting, but to little gain, and died in poverty.

The RPS has quite a large Rejlander collection of about 80 prints, some original albumen, some later platinum and carbon reprints and 57 wet collodion negatives.

 

References

Background and biographical information is from Wikipedia articles on:

Wikipedia: Oscar Gustave Rejlander… 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oscar_Gustave_Rejlander

Web Sites and Blogs:

Robert Leggat: Oscar Gustave Rejlander
http://www.rleggat.com/photohistory/history/rejlande.htm

Brainy Quote: Photographers Quotes…  
http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/photographers_2.html