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1885-1920 Modern photos emerge

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  • 1885-1920 Modern photos emerge

    There is really nothing magic about the date 1885, except that around this time photography began to evolve into the state we know it today. Prior to this time, the Albumen Photograph ruled as the foremost photographic technique, but waiting in the wings, largely due to advances in making dry plate gelatin negatives, was the forerunner of the modern photo with 3 layerd paper, a new method of positive image production and improved tone/photo life...things were changing.....
    First, a brief defination of a few terms is in order so you will be able to make sense out of what will follow in this and other posts.
    Photographs on paper basically come about through one of two methods, (1) Printing out and (2) Developing out. The difference between the two is as follows:
    Photographs made by the printing out process required the sensitized paper to be held in close proximity or in contact with the negative in a special frames and were then exposed to a bright light source, as in sun light, until the photographer judged that the tones were correct, at which time the photo was taken out of the frame , toned with gold and later a combination of gold and platinum, fixed and washed. The problem here was that the silver which composed the image was what is called photolytic silver, which refers to its physical form. The form was that of small, descreet globules which were very susceptable to further chemical reactions through the mechanisms of sulfiding and oxidative/reductive reactions. In short, even though toning helped to stabilize the photolytic silver, it still was unstable and tended to react with impurities at a rapid rate causing image deterioration. All printing out papers had this problem in some degree.
    On the other hand, Developing out papers, in which the sensitized paper, usually a 3 layer type consisting of a base, a neutral(chemically) layer of Barium sulfate( called Barayta or Baryta) and the layer containing the silver, usually gelatin or collodian, were turned into photographs by briefly exposing the paper to light and the latent image was then developed in a seperate step using chemical "developing" agent(s), then fixed and washed. The major advantage here is what happens to the contact with the developer, the silver changes to a form known as Filimentary silver, charactarized by the silver forming clumps and twisted strands which better resist deterioration and gave more neutral tones.
    O.K.... brief review....1885- Approx. the time when 3 layer papers, developing out processes for positive prints, and the use of gelatin and collodian as "binder layer" material to hold the silver began to be found in general use.
    Two basic processes in use...Printing out and developing out. Of the two, Developing out had major advantages such as the ability to make Enlargments from a negative and the prints produced had better longivity and a more neutral tone.
    The developing out process was, once mastered, clearly superior to the printing out process for general phtotgraphy and saw increasing use in studio type work.
    Printing out processes didnt just go away...there are photographers today who still use it, but for specalized works. By 1920, developing was the prefered method of photo production...
    and the commercial production of printing out papers ceased.
    Next installment will deal with the two substances used as "binders" for the reactive silver...Gelatin and Collodian. Tom

  • #2
    Is there a way to tell the difference between the two by just looking at them? I am currently working on a wedding photo taken about 1910 and I notice the silvering or mirroring in it. But unlike the images we've seen here in the archives and challenges, where the mirroring is random and indiscriminate, this clearly appears as a ghost image when viewed on a sharp angle and it's only present in the dark shadowed areas. Where all the mens suits and stovepipe hats and the curtains are is that slivery sheen but where the women's whiter gowns are it's not present. Another difference in this image as opposed to the ones we have in the archive here is that the scanner does not seem to pick it up. When scanned it looks like a normal aged photo. The only mirroring it picked up was in a small bowed ridge where the image was slightly raised.
    When I read your review on the two processes I thought about this image and wondered if that might be the way to tell if it's or developed out vs. printed out .

    Before I close I just want to say you gave another excellent lesson in old prints. Thanks again for taking the time to tutor us. I know I sure look forward to them.


    • #3
      From the age and description, it sounds like a developed process print. The mirroring you describe is typical for this type of photo, (although mirroring can occur on printed out photos as well), and there is no effective way to reverse it. Careful storage, avoiding display in direct sunlight/unshielded flourescent light, avoiding as much as possible high humidity/temp. environments is about the best you can do...on the bright side, because the mirroring is not in an advanced state, the storage/display conditions it has experienced donot seem to have been unduly stressful to it. The main way to tell the difference between developed and printed out photos is how they look...a photo which is faded, yellowed in highlight areas or non image areas and just plain looks old is probably printed out process. Developed out images tend, in the main, to show less fading etc., and maintain better tone ( due to the filimentary nature of the silver). In many cases, the date will give you a valuable clue as developing out process photos were the most common from around 1905 or so onwards. Regardless of the process, both types of photo share in the need for proper storage and limited display...a digital copy is the best for hanging on the wall or sitting on the table..... Tom


      • #4
        This one had an area of fading but it was not restricted to light areas. Unfortunately, it has been stored in an oversized poorly mounted frame and being in this humid Florida climate, it had alot of mold spots on it and dirt. It told the client to see a conservator about cleaning and protecting the original, possibly even repairing the massive tear across it. But who know's if they will or not. At anyrate they now have a sepia toned digital copy to display and can put the original away.

        I have had other prints around the same era showing that same silvery effect when turned on an angle and they too didn't show up in the scan. It makes me wonder why the indescriminate blotchy mirroring we so commonly see does show up when scanned. I would think the properties of reflected light would be the same. Perhaps the mirroring does show up but since it so perfectly covers all of the shadows that I don't notice it where the blotches show up because the unaffected areas of the same shade are clearly different. I'm theorizing here. It's got me baffled. Oh, hell, everything baffles me so what else is new.


        • #5
          The amount of mirroring tends to reflect the amount of deterioration, usually of the oxidative/reductive mechanism. As to why some seem to suffer this more than others, well, it can be due to a multitude of reasons, including processing, materials comprising the image bearing layer...on and on... From the general description, I still strongly suspect a developed out process photo. If the black areas still maintain a neutral tone and fading is pretty much in the lighter areas, this bolsters the case for developed out process. Buried somewhere in the threads is a discussion of mirroring and the mechanism behind it...migration of silver ions and so on...basically, you tend to see mirroring around areas of higher density due to the abundance of silver in these areas which gets wacked to its ion form, migrates, then reduces back giving the mirroring effect. Also, I would suspect that where the mirroring is not yet severe the differences in the reflected light would not be severe enough for the scanner to pick up . Just speculating though....Tom


          • #6
            Another excellent post Tom. Even though I've read about the early (and not so early) processes, your posts never fail to jog my memory. I really enjoy reading them. Thanks.



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