Early Photographic Prints

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By Dr. A.N. Gilai

Photographers in the nineteenth century employed a wide variety of materials and processes. Many material types (copper, silver, albumen, cyanide, glass, paper and much more) were used in the effort to capture light and print pictures. In some cases there is no way to tell, short of exacting scientific analysis, just what sort of variation was used to obtain a specific result. Most early photographs, however, fall into categories for which brief descriptions follow in chronological order.

Calotype 1839-1851
• A positive/negative process introduced by fox Talbot on 25 January 1839.
• A paper was brushed with weak salt and silver nitrate with gallic acid solution.
• The negative and positive papers were exposed for half an hour each.
• The positive paper was fixed with potassium iodide.
• When the Collodion process was introduced in 1851, the calotype became obsolete.

Daguerreotypes, 1840's-1850's
• Invented about 1839 by louis jacques-mande
• Expensive process.
• Very long exposure time (up to 1/2 hour), special head rests used.
• Mirror-like surface on silver-plated copper sheet.
• Usually in ornate case (felt or 'plastic').
• Image appears to go from "positive" to "negative"
when tilted forward or backward.

Ambrotypes, 1850's-1870's
• Much shorter exposure time than daguerreotype.
• Unlimited copies could be made.
• Image on thin glass sheet, rather than metal.
• Usually with black backing.
• Found in ornate cases (felt or 'plastic').
• Popular into the early 1870's.
• Inexpensive to produce.

Albumen Prints, 1850's-1890's
• Most common process from 1850's to mid 1890's.
• Thin paper coated with albumen (egg white protein) then light sensitive silver nitrate.
• Usually mounted on cardboard sheet.
• High level of detail.
• Used for carte-de-visites, stereographs, cabinet cards.
• Image surface tends to scratch easily!

Collodion Prints
• Introduced in 1851 by Frederick Scott Archer
• Collodion (replaced the Albumen) was a viscous liquid dissolved in alcohol.
• The collodion mixture was not only inflammable but also highly explosive.
• The Collodion process was replaced with cheaper alternatives, such as Ambrotypes and Tintypes.

Tintypes / Ferrotypes, 1854-1900
• Made on metal sheet (actually an iron sheet - not tin).
• Image often coated with varnish or lacquer.
• Also known as a ferrotype.
• Often in protective paper enclosure.
• Easy to produce.
• Image often looks dark and muted.

Cartes-De-Visites , 1860-1891
• Small paper image glued to cardboard sheet.
• Invented by a.a.e. disderi.
• Short exposure time (about 20 seconds).
• Very popular in 1860's.
• Often displayed in ornate photo albums.
• Name of studio usually printed on back of card.
• Generally used albumen emulsion.
• Scratch easily.

Cabinet Cards 1866-1906
• A larger version of the carte-de-visite.
• Usually measured about 4 x 6 inches.
• Often displayed in curio cabinets or mantelpieces.
• Name of studio often prominently displayed on front of card, below image.
• Colors, corners and border can be used to date photos.
• Paper image glued to cardboard sheet.
• Generally used albumen or gelatin silver emulsions.
• Scratch easily.

Stereographic Cards
• Produces three dimensional effect with a viewing apparatus.
• Paper image glued to curved cardboard sheet.
• Curve in cardboard sheet enhances 3d effect.
• Generally used albumen emulsion.
• Subject matter varied widely from exotic locales, battlefields and staged comedic scenes.
• Scratch easily.

• Process invented about 1842 by Sir John Herschel.
• Not popular until end of 19th century.
• Used to make photographic proofs.
• Image made on thin, light-sensitive paper.
• Easy to identify because of cyan blue coloring.
• Basis of the "blueprint" process used to reproduce maps and plans.
• Never widely accepted as photographic process.
• Can be easily damaged if in contact with moisture.

Crayon Portraits 1860-1930
• These were photographic enlargements, printed very faintly, that were then touched up with charcoal, crayon or pastels.
• Image has matte surface.
• High level of image detail and clarity.
• Often quite large and housed in oval frames with curved glass.
• Sometimes mistaken for paintings.
• Images usually have warm, muted tones.
• Nicknamed, "the poor-man's painted portrait"

Panoramic Photographs
• Popular from about 1910.
• Used unique camera that turned on a tripod, with pivoting lens.
• Could produce a 3 1/2 inch x 12 inch negative.
• Could capture a horizontal view of 142 degrees and a vertical view of 60 degrees.
• Kodak manufactured the popular panoram camera.
• Military staff photos and factory worker photos were often produced in this format.

Photogravure Prints
• Process used for art reproduction prints.
• Invented in 1852 and improved by Karl Klic inAustria in the late 1870's.
• Sometimes called photo-etching or photoaquatint.
• From the original camera negative to the final print, there are five generations; negative, positive, gelatin tissue, copper plate and print.

Glass Plates, 1848-1930's
• Emulsion process either WET PLATE (1840's-1880's) or DRY GELATIN (1880's-1920's).
• In early years a wet emulsion was coated on glass plate by hand.
• Dry plate process became basis of modern photography using light sensitive silver bromide in gelatin.

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