The University of Alabama
Examples and Descriptions of 19th and Early 20th century Photographic Techniques housed at The W.S. Hoole Special Collections Library
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The Hoole Library houses a growing and diverse collection of historic and contemporary photographs occupying approximately 150 linear feet. Included are photographs of individuals, structures, and scenes from around Alabama, as well as of people, buildings, and events at The University of Alabama. The earliest photographic image of the University dates to 1859.  The Hoole Library has holdings that represent nearly every format and type of early photography. They include:
 

Salted Paper Print

  • Used from 1840 to mid-1860s.
  • Surface is matte, and various weights of paper were used.
  • Image colors range from red-brown (untoned) to purple (gold-toned).
  • Most prints in American collections are studio portraits. These can be distinguished from albumen prints by their color and the matte surface. It was also used for landscapes and topographical views.
  • The most common signs of deterioration are edge fading, loss of highlight detail, and a hue shift toward yellow-brown.
  • The process was revived and used to some extent by fine art and even some professional photographers from 1890 to 1910.

 

Matte Collodion

  • Used from 1894 to 1920s.
  • Surface is semi-matte, and the image color is usually neutral or greenish-black as a result of gold and platinum toning.
  • Extensively used for commercial portraiture from 1895 to 1910.
  • The typical presentation was in the cabinet card form during the 1890s, and on gray square or rectangular mounts of various sizes after the turn of the 20th century.
  • Fading is somewhat present, especially in the highlights, but generally they do well over time. The collodion and barita layers will discolor (yellow) upon prolong display.

 

Daguerreotype

  • Invented by Louis Dagauerre and based on work of F. Niepce, was the first practical photographic process.
  • Popular from the early 1840s until ca. 1860.
  • Consist of a positive image on a thin copper plate with a highly polished, mirror-like coating of silver.
  • Sometimes exhibit hand painted/tinted highlights and flesh tones.
  • Very delicate and liable to tarnish. They were usually placed in a sealed package with a pane of glass to protect the plate from atmospheric and mechanical damage. In America they were most often placed in small hinged cases made of wood with leather or paper covering, or in the so-called “union cases” made of molded thermoplastic material or gutta-percha.
  • Its distinguishing features are highly a polished silver support, and the quality of appearing either as a negative or a positive depending on the angle of view and the direction from which light falls on it.
  • Most common deterioration is oxidation films (tarnish) and physical abrasions to the delicate surface. Exfoliation of the thin surface layer of silver is often encountered, usually appearing spotwise. This is the result of an imperfection of the copper/silver bond or physical abrasion. Glass deterioration is another problem that can make an image appear cloudy but is corrected with cleaning or replacement of the cover glass. If the cover glass problem is not corrected droplets of the glass deterioration byproduct can fall onto the plate surface causing localized tarnish or other problems.

 

Tintype

  • Tintypes first appeared in the late 1850s and use continued well into the 20th century.
  • Easy to identify because of the support, which is made of iron. The iron sheet was pre-coated with a black or brown colored lacquer that served to deepen the shadows and give background color. Because of the background color the image can appear as black and creamy white or “chocolate”. Most tintypes were coated with layer of varnish that protected the collodion layer. This lacquer often appears yellowed and cracked.
  • The most common type of deterioration is physical damage such as deformation of the thin iron support or scratches and abrasions of the surface layer, that is followed by lifting and flaking of the collodion and image silver oxidation in the areas where the damage occurred.  

 

Cyanotypes

  • Occasionally produced during the period of 1840-1880. Most examples originate from the late 1880s to 1920.
  • Have a matte surface and bright uniform blue image color.
  • Little image fading occurs, although it is hard to say what is faded and what was light to begin with.
  • Characteristic forms of deterioration are staining and embrittlement of the primary support.
  • Because no binder is present, curl is not a problem and many are unmounted.

 

Ambrotype

  • Ambrotype was in use from 1855 to about 1865, but enjoyed its greatest popularity in the late 1850s.
  • Several opaque, non-reflective supports were used with the ambrotype, including dark red or purple glass, and clear glass backed with black velvet or black varnish.
  • Most ambrotypes were put in protective cases like those used for daguerreotypes.
  • As with daguerreotypes, ambrotypes sometimes exhibit hand painted/tinted highlights and flesh tones.
  • The ambrotype normally appears as a positive image no matter what the angle of view.
  • Because the image is often on a glass support, it is very susceptible to breakage if removed from the case. It is also prone to glass deterioration, like the daguerreotype, which leads to loss of adhesion in the collodion layer and cracking and flaking off of the collodion. The black paint, which was painted on the back of the image glass, flakes off leaving areas of clear glass in the shadow areas.

 

Albumen

  • It was discovered by French photographer Louis Desire Blanquart Evrard and first announced by him on May 27, 1850. Very similar to salted paper, but with a different sort of applied sizing – egg white. It was in use until 1895.
  • Most dominant type of 19th century.
  • A crucial clue to identify this type is the presence of some form of localized or overall image fading. They include yellowish-red image color, overall lightness and loss of highlight detail, yellow spots, fading at edges, blotchiness, and silver mirroring. Any image fading would rule out the possibility that a print is a carbon print or woodburytype because they have pigment images and usually do not fade. Unfaded albumen prints are purplish-brown or purple.
  • The surface of albumen print is slightly glossy or very glossy.
  • Most common forms of deterioration are embrittlement, staining and yellowing of albumen layer, cracking and fissuring of albumen layer. 

 

Stereocards

  • Stereocards were produced in massive numbers in both Europe and America from about 1850 to well into the 20th century, and are still produced in small numbers today.
  • They provide a way of showing a scene in three dimensions, which adds to the realism of presentation.
  • The most usual format is on a cardboard mount, 7 inches wide by 3.5 inches tall, with two similar, but not identical, views places side by side. The slight difference in the two images allows for the optical illusion of depth.
  • Old stereocards tend to be flat, but the later ones (post 1900) are usually curved. This is not a sign of aging, but an intentional modification to the original design.
  • Stereocards are viewed in a Stereoscope.

 

Glass Negative

  • There are two types of glass plate negatives: wet-collodion negative and dry-plate negative.
  • Wet-collodion negatives were first introduced in the 1850s. Wet-collodion was used as the binding agent for the light sensitive chemicals. The earliest wet-collodion negatives were made on glass plates of different sizes and variable thickness. They had to be placed into the camera while still damp to make an image. Because of this, chemicals were applied immediately before taking the photograph.
  • In the 1880s, a second type of glass plate negative was developed known as a dry-plate glass negative. The dry-plate negative was precoated and presensitized in a factory, and could be stored for long periods of time. It has an image carried in a layer of dried gelatin on a sheet of glass. Dry-plate glass negatives tend to be more uniform in thickness, and were quickly produced in standard sizes so there is less variance in sizes compared to wet-collodion negatives.
  • Glass plate negatives are quite brittle and very susceptible to breakage. The surface is easily scratched, leading to permanent and irreparable image damage. 

 

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