Thursday, 28 August 2014

Food, alcohol and other common household products & photos

Did you know that many early photographic processes involved the use of common types of food such as egg, potatoes and other household products including salt, alcohol and lavender oil, that we all have in our cupboards?

Ref: Green and Hahn for Auckland Weekly News, a duck with eggs, 1930, Papaui, Christchurch, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19301022-46-5
Ref: Green and Hahn for Auckland Weekly News, gathering lavender in a Christchurch garden, 1932, Christchurch, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19320106-46-3
Ref: J.A. Slack for Auckland Weekly News, testing spirits at H.M. Customs, Auckland, 1899, Christchurch, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-18990707-2-1
Ref: F.A. Hargreaves for Auckland Weekly News, A crop of potatoes being harvested in the Waiapu County, Auckland, 1911, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19110518-7-3

Ambrotypes - alcohol, salt and lavender oil
The ambrotype first became popular in NZ during the mid 1850s, overtaking the daguerreotype, which was invented in 1839 but not widely available in New Zealand until the 1850s.

Described as a form of wet plate collodian photography, a glass plate was first dipped and coated with a salty, syrupy, alcoholic mixture, which made it light sensitive. This solution included cellulose nitrate in ether and alcohol with the addition of bromide (found in sea water) and iodine (found in iodized table salt). The plate was finally dried and varnished using among other things, lavender oil.

Ref: Photographer and colourist unknown, hand coloured ambrotype showing William Spain, date and location unknown, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 3-554
Collodion originally had medical purposes and was used for dressings. The first person to adapt its use to photography was the Englishman Frederick Scott Archer. In 1851 he discovered that it could be used instead of albumen / egg white and gave a very fine grained image, requiring less exposure time. Wet plate collodian photography could also be used to create high quality duplicates or negatives and was used for both ambrotypes and tintypes/ferrotypes.

Albumen prints - egg whites
Invented in 1850 by Louis Désiré Blanquart-Evrard, one of the main components was albumen, which is found in egg whites. It was used to bind the photographic chemicals to the paper along with salt and silver nitrates. The paper was dried and then placed in contact with the negative, which was usually a glass negative made using a collodion emulsion, as described above. Exposed to either sunlight or UV light (the latter was far more effective), the resulting print was fixed and sometimes toned using gold or selenium.

Ref: Photographer unknown, carte de visite showing an unidentified young Māori woman, c. 1880s, location unknown, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 3-554
Ref: WW Winter and Gray and Bluman (Firm), pages from a family album showing carte de visite photographs, c. 1880-1890s, location unknown, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 305-ALBUM-109-22
This process was effectively the first commercially viable way of producing a photographic paper based print from a negative. During the mid-19th century, the carte de visite print became one of the more popular uses of the albumen method.

Autochrome - potatoes
Invented by Louis Lumière in 1903 but not marketed until 1907, this process used potato starch to produce a colour transparency. Using a screen coated with millions of grains of potato starch dyed in three different colours, light was filtered onto the glass plate. The resulting colour image, as can been seen in the photographs below, has a dreamy, painterly impressionistic or pointillist effect.

Autochrome was instantly popular and was only superseded in the mid 1930s when Kodak released Kodachrome, the highly successful colour film for both still photography and cinematography.

Ref: Samuel G. Frith, autochrome photograph of a fancy dress tableau, no location, c. 1910s, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1043-9713
Ref: Samuel G. Frith, autochrome photograph of Averill Frith with a vase of flowers, no location, c. 1912, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1043-9715
Author: Natasha Barrett (NB)

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