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British Journal of Photography Almanac Annual Summary of Photographic Inventions and Events in Photographic History/1880

From George Eastman House : Notes On Photographs

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Edited by W. B. Bolton

The year 1879 will remain in the memories of most of us as one almost unexampled in the history of photography. The wretchedly bad weather which prevailed during the greater portion of the year, and the general depression in every branch of trade and commerce, combined to render it alike unprofitable to amateur and professional. Much as a continued bad season, aided by other adverse conditions, might be supposed to affect photographers, the latter as a class appear to have passed through the ordeal with as little inconvenience as any other section of the community-a fact which speaks well for the stability of the commercial side of the art-science.

In matters of progress connected with the science of photography the past year has been, it may be said, a complete blank. In the practice of the art, however, at least one important change has occurred, namely, in the very general adoption of dry plates in the place of the ordinary wet plate for all purposes to which the latter has been for so many years almost exclusively applied. For portraiture, especially, dry gelatine emulsion plates have secured a large share of popular favour, and it is not going beyond the truth to say that few studios of any importance throughout the country have not made the acquaintance of the new plates for one purpose or another.

Though the gelatino-bromide process has long ceased to be a new one in the strictest sense, its advance in public estimation, especially for studio work, was comparatively sudden; and the stir made during the winter months by the surprising results obtained by those few who had this early adopted the new method of working caused a still further influx of supporters, and raised a corresponding amount of interest in the working of the process in all the details connected with it.

Amongst the experimentalist who have devoted attention to gelatine emulsions during the year the names of Captain Abney and Dr. Monckhoven may be specially mentioned. Each of these gentlemen has made public an improved method of preparing the emulsion, the object in both cases being to reduce as far as possible the danger of decomposition of the gelatine in hot weather and from other causes. A résumé of these two processes, together with other items of progress in gelatine work during the year, will be found in another portion of this volume. It is, therefore, unnecessary to enter into further details here.

In connection with gelatine plates a difficulty has been encountered in obtaining with certainty the requisite printing density in the negative. To meet this defect the old plan of mercurial intensification has been revived, and has now secured very general adoption. An improvement upon the ancient formula was proposed by Mr. B. J. Edwards, consisting in the addition to the old iodide of mercury solution of a certain quantity of hyposulphite of soda, which, besides improving the quality of the intensification, is said to conduce to greater stability.

In printing matters the old processes have been at a complete standstill. Carbon printing has apparently arrived at a stage beyond which it seems impossible to pass; while silver printing, despite the evil character it has obtained in many quarters, continues to hold its ground. The platinotype process has secured a considerable amount of attention, and is at present in use in many studios, as well as in the hands of numerous amateurs.

A novel phase of portraiture has been for some time growing into a practical form, namely, the use of artificial light. Three rival systems are in vogue, with more or less success-the electric light, the pyrotechnic (as employed with the luxograph apparatus), and ordinary gas. The first, from the expense attached to it, is practically shut out from the majority of studios, while gaslight can scarcely yet be said to have practically succeeded, except in a few hands. Two new societies have been established during the year-in Dublin and Bolton: while in London a new photographic club, meeting weekly, has been formed.

The list of deaths during the year has been usually heavy. Amongst those who have gone are found the names of P. le Neve Foster, Mrs. Julia Cameron, R. T. Crawshay, J. W. Gough, O. Sarony, Henry Negretti, and Ernest Lacan, beside several others not generally known.