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19th Century Photography in Travel Photography: Images from the 19th and 20th Century on Wednesday, April 24 at 10am

In 1839, both Louis Daguerre (1787-1851) and Fox Talbot (1800-1877) published their methods of creating images with a camera device, ushering in a new era of scientific and artistic exploration. This date has been widely used as the birth of Photography, though we know that both men worked on their processes before publishing, an early known view by Talbot dates to 1835. Talbot was a scientist and photography pioneer who invented the salted paper and calotype processes that were the precursors of gelatin printing later in the century. Daguerre was a French chemist and artist best-known for his invention of the eponymous daguerreotype process that allowed the creation of images through a treated and exposed sheet of silver-plated copper. The daguerreotype method was widely used during the 1840s and 1850s but became obsolete after 1860 when new, less expensive processes were introduced. The mid-nineteenth century saw rapid growth and experimentation with photographic techniques by photographers who debated the nature of the new invention: was it science or was it a new art form?

The first generation of photographers were, by necessity, part-scientists as they learned to master techniques or developed new ones to suit their purposes. All the equipment needed to produce a photograph was new and required practice to use and master. On the artistic side, photographers grappled with aesthetic issues such as how to convey texture, tone and color. The subjects that have interested artists for centuries were also the subjects of photography in the 19th century: landscape, portraiture, and genre scenes.

The photographic processes developed and enhanced during the 19th century were varied and include the early daguereotype and tintype, wet-collodoin glass plates, gelatin dry plates, albumen prints, platinum palladium prints, and gelatin silver prints. Daguereotype, tintype and ambrotype are the earliest photographic methods that involve a direct positive process on a metal or glass plate. The two most frequently used processes in the mid-to-late 19th century were wet-collodoin glass plate and albumen prints. The wet collodion process involves coating a glass plate with a solution that is then immersed in a solution of silver nitrate in a darkroom. The plate is wet when it is exposed and then immediately developed and fixed. A protective varnish is applied to it as a top coat to protect the image. The darkrooms used were portable, often in horse-drawn wagons. Producing a wet collodion photograph in the field took a great deal of skill, and their fragility has made them quite rare.

The most popular and widely used photographic process in the second half of the 19th century was albumen printing. To create albumen prints, paper was floated in a mixture of fermented chloride and egg white, dried, and then immersed in a solution of silver nitrate. The paper would then be placed in direct contact with the negative and exposed to sunlight. Albumen prints tend to have a yellow-brown tone that turns more yellow are they deteriorate. Considered the “easiest” process to master, many photographers who travelled and printed as they went used this process successfully.

In the mid-1880s, the collodion and silver gelatin processes were developed and overtook albumen printing as the most popular photographic printing method. The two methods are very similar and, like the albumen process, are printed in direct contact under sunlight. These two methods are the precursors of the photographic processes used and further developed in the 20th century. The other two printing processes used extensively at the end of the 19th century are platinum printing and cyanotypes. The platinum print is created in a similar fashion to collodoin and gelatin prints but with iron and platinum salts as the coating element. Cyanotypes are easy to identify because of their blue ‘cyan’ color. They are basically photographic blueprints and were used to make proofs and contact prints.

Also developed in the 1880s was the gelatin dry plate process that replaced the wet plate process. George Eastman’s new company, Eastman Film and Dry Plate, later Eastman Kodak, began producing glass plates to be used for this process which was faster than the wet plate process, needing only a second or less of exposure time.

Our sale of Travel Photography offers an opportunity to see some of the 19th century print processes in their original form through images shot by photographers who were travelling around the world. The scientific strides made in photographic printing processes allowed images of distant lands to be reproduced and experienced by a public that would never have had access to them in any other way. The eventual shift of photography as a documentary tool to an art form happened during the 19th century, leading to some of the most interesting and creative imagery at the turn of the new century,

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