Dry plate photography
Various wet gel processes (emulsions) had been used in the creation of both positive and negative image forms. By the 1870s both the systems had been tested in a range of photographic situations. However, the inconvenience of working with wet gels proved more crucial in deciding the next step. The gels needed to be mixed and coated before the shot and the mixture was not always stable. Once taken the image needed to be rapidly developed and fixed immediately after the photograph. Using chemical mixes in the field or on location was difficult and limiting.
Dr. Richard L. Maddox invented a dry gel process in 1871. By 1879 this process was rapidly developed until dry plate processes became as effective as wet plates for speed and quality. Maddox set up a dry plate factory mass producing the chemicals. This made the work of photographers much easier. Dry plates could be stored rather than made when needed. As a result of this significant development photographers were more easily able to take photographs in remote places or where it was not convenient to develop each shot as it was taken.
After dry plate photography George Eastman, of Rochester, New York, developed a dry gel coated on paper, and later film, replacing photographic plates in 1884. In 1888 George Eastman’s “Kodak” camera went on the market. The famous slogan “You press the button, we do the rest” heralded an era of freedom in photography. Now anyone could take a photo leaving processing to experts “back in the lab”.
Photography as a popular pastime
Photography suddenly became a popular pursuit after the success of the “Kodak Brownie”, the first mass produced camera released in 1900. This camera and its successors carrying the same name turned into a long line of popular and inexpensive cameras. The first ones were basic, made in cardboard. The popularity of this line of cameras ensured that the marque continued until 1967. Although vastly improved by that time, the Kodak Brownie sold in millions during its production history.
The Brownie succeeded because it was cheap and easily used. There was one lens, no focusing. Once the film had been exposed the camera was returned to the factory for the film (100 shots) to be developed. The real success was the creation of a flexible roll of film. It was coated with a dry emulsion. The flexibility of the film and no processing meant that the camera body could hold the film until developed – like today’s disposable cameras. This advance allowed the amateur and professional to take pictures anywhere with no worry about developing or wet chemicals. However, while the Brownie pioneered the use of dry film with multiple exposures the film was still large and cumbersome. More on the Kodak ‘Brownie’ on Wikipedia
Arguably the most popular photography from 1850 to 1914 was portrait photography. Long exposures were needed to allow the early emulsions to work. This lead to a difficulty with capturing movement. Any object moving in the frame would be lost or ghost-like. This meant early photographs were mainly of static subjects. After 1900 the improved emulsions allowed photography to penetrate other subjects. Improved techniques and equipment paved the way. Journalistic photography began to make headway too.
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