AN ARCHIVAL VIEW:
HISTORY OF PHOTOGRAPHY ON THE NORTH SHORE
Timeline 1860 to 2021
Invented in 1839 by Louis Jacque Mandé Daguerre.
Most commonly used between 1840 and 1860.
The daguerreotype process was the first form of photography that was commercially available and widely practiced. Daguerreotype portrait studios quickly became popular in the mid-1800s, which put the process in direct competition with the miniature painted portrait industry in Europe. The process produces a one of a kind, reversed, and highly detailed image that sits on the surface of a silver polished copper plate.
Daguerreotypes have highly mirrored surfaces, and are most often housed in protective hinged cases or glazed packages. They can appear as either positive or negative images depending on the viewing angle. Daguerreotypes often have hand-painted colour applied to the surface that highlights jewelry, clothing, or adds colour to the face of the sitter.
Daguerreotypes housed in cases, such as this portrait, are protected by many layers. The case itself is made of wood, leather, and velvet. The daguerreotype plate sits behind a metal window overmat, a glass cover, and a metal foil preserver. Cased portraits would often be viewed by holding the object directly in one’s hands.
A thin layer of silver would be applied to a copper plate that would then be carefully polished, buffed, and sensitized in a box with vapour of iodine. After exposing the plate in a camera, it would be placed in a developing box where mercury vapours would reveal a latent image. The plate would then be submerged in a table-salt solution that stabilized (fixed) the image, washed with water, and dried.
The silver coated surface of the copper plate is extremely fragile and is easily susceptible to damage from abrasion, as well as tarnishing from light and air pollutants.
Invented by William Henry Fox Talbot in 1839.
Most commonly used between 1840 and 1860.
This portrait of Captain W.D. Gosset, the acting Postmaster General of B.C. and Vancouver Island from June 1859 to July 1860, is an example of a salted paper print with a semi-matte surface sheen. This could be the result of a binding agent, such as starch or gelatin, being added to the salt solution, or it may have been coated with a type of varnish, albumen, or gelatin to help protect it from deterioration.
Developed from Talbot’s earlier photogenic drawing process, salted paper prints were the first positive photographic prints to be created from paper negatives. The process marked the beginning of what would eventually become the basic negative/positive printing system used in photography to this day. In contrast with the uniqueness of daguerreotypes, the salted paper process allowed for multiple positive salted paper copies to be printed from a single paper negative, and was even compatible with negatives of other formats including early albumen and wet collodion glass negatives.
Salted paper prints typically have a warm image tone and a matte surface sheen. As there is no emulsion on the surface of the paper, the image on a salted paper print sits within the paper fibers rather than on top of them, meaning the paper fibers can be visible to the eye. The popularity of salted paper prints declined when albumen printing was introduced
A sheet of paper would be dipped into a salt solution, dried, and then floated in a silver nitrate solution that would make the paper light sensitive. Once dry, the paper would be placed in a printing frame with a negative and exposed to light. After exposure, the sheet would be fixed in a bath of sodium thiosulfate, washed, and dried again.
Salted paper prints are susceptible to surface abrasions, and they can appear faded or experience a change in tone due to oxidation. They can also develop a warm yellow/brown colour as a result of sulfiding.
Invented by Louis Blanquart-Evrard in 1850.
Most commonly used between 1855 and 1890.
Albumen was the most popular positive printing process of the 19th century. Albumen paper was capable of achieving greater and sharper detail and contrast compared to salted paper. The albumen process became a reliable printing method suited for any type of photographic application including portraiture, landscape, and scientific subject matter.
Albumen prints typically have a warm, brownish image tone, and a semi-matte to glossy surface sheen. These prints are usually quite thin and are often mounted onto secondary supports due to their tendency to curl. Standard mounted formats include carte-de-visites and cabinet cards.
Carte-de-visites were a very popular format for albumen prints. People would visit professional studios to have their portrait taken and the small mounted copies they received were ideal for sending in the mail, inserting into albums, and even collecting like playing cards. The studio logo or photographer’s name is often embossed on the back of CdVs, which gives us important information about who was practicing photography commercially and where they were located.
A high quality thin piece of paper would be coated with salted albumen (a mixture of salt and egg whites), dried, and immediately before exposure, be sensitized with a silver nitrate solution. The sensitized paper would be placed in a printing frame with a negative and exposed to light, then washed and put in a toning bath to help remove any left-over light sensitive chemicals. The print would then be fixed, washed, and dried.
Albumen prints can experience image discolouration, fading, and yellowing of the natural albumen layer (particularly in the highlights). Sulfiding and oxidation are also common, and can be caused by leftover developing chemicals, high storage temperatures, and poor quality mounting materials.
Announced in 1853 by Adolphe Alexandre Martin, patented in 1856.
Most commonly used between 1856 and 1920.
The portrait of Lizzie Marlowe wearing a fancy hat is an example of a “gem” size tintype, and the portraits of the Kennedy brothers are “bon ton” or carte-de-visite size tintypes. It was common for tintypes to have clipped edges, and to be kept in paper window frames.
Tintypes are a variation of the wet plate collodion process, developed for use with durable sheets of iron rather than the more fragile glass supports used for earlier wet collodion negatives and ambrotypes. Most often used for portraiture, tintypes could be produced in professional studios or on the street by travelling photographers using portable darkrooms. Tintypes were inexpensive to make and required very little turnaround time after exposure before being ready to hand off to customers, making them a popular means of income for photographers. A special camera could be used to take several images on a single iron sheet, which allowed photographers to sell multiple images of various sizes to the public, in a format similar to the modern day photobooth.
Tintypes are direct positives, meaning they are created without negatives. Shadow areas in tintypes appear very dark, while highlights are usually a milky-white colour.
A thin sheet of iron painted with a black lacquer would be coated with a collodion solution, hand poured onto the plate by the photographer or darkroom assistant. Once coated, the plate would quickly be put into a silver nitrate bath to become sensitized. The plate would need to immediately be exposed in a camera, developed with a ferrous sulfate and nitric acid solution, then fixed, washed, and dried. Tintypes are usually coated with a protective layer of varnish as a final step.
Tintypes often have dents or bends in the metal support and can become rusted, sometimes leaving stains on paper frames. They are sensitive to humidity, and abrasions on the collodion layer of the photograph are common.
Invented by Alphonse-Louis Poitevin in 1855.
Most commonly used between 1868 and 1940.
The carbon process was the first pigment based photographic process. Carbon prints are composed of light sensitive dichromate salts that sit within a coloured gelatin layer on a paper support. The process received its name due to the original use of carbon black pigment (though any pigment colour could be added), and was often used by photographers who wished to engage with photography as an art form or by those looking to produce prints with lasting permanence.
Carbon prints typically have soft black, dark-brown, or reddish-brown tones. The pigmented gelatin layer is thicker on shadow areas in the image compared to highlights, which creates a noticeable differential gloss surface sheen. Gelatin layers that are mixed with a large amount of pigment can cause the print to appear dull.
This photograph by Leonard Frank is likely a Carbro print, which was a commercial development of the carbon process. Carbro paper was pre-coated, sold in a variety of colours, and made printing on larger sizes possible as direct contact with the negative was no longer required to create a print. Leonard Frank (July 3, 1870 – February 23, 1944) was a Jewish German-Canadian photographer, known best in British Columbia for his commercial, industrial, and landscape photography.
A sheet of paper would be coated with a light sensitive gelatin solution that had been mixed with a permanent pigment (such as carbon). Once dried, the paper would be layered with a negative and exposed, and the gelatin layer would harden from the light. Warm water and a brush would then be used to wash away the pigmented gelatin in the areas of the image that had not been exposed, revealing the paper support and creating tonalities in the image. The hardened gelatin in the shadow areas was not able to be washed away and would remain permanently on the paper. Advancements such as textured paper supports and the carbon transfer method (introduced in 1860) resolved the common problem of mid-tone areas being easily washed away during processing.
Compared to prints produced through silver-based processes, pigment prints are more stable and experience no chemical deterioration. Carbon prints are still susceptible to mechanical deterioration such as cracks or physical damage to the pigmented gelatin layer.
Introduced by the commercial photography industry in the 1880s.
Most commonly used from 1900 to 1990.
This photograph, along with the previous Capilano River trip images, represent the earliest GSPs selected from the Archives of North Vancouver.
Both the POP prints of a group biking and picnicking at Capilano Canyon in 1897, and the DOP print of Chief Joe Capilano at City Hall in 1906 were likely printed by amateurs.
This rare Harry Bullen landscape image of Capilano River and Canyon; and Jack Wardlaw portrait of the Lawn Bowling members are examples of GSPs created by professional photographers with their own studios. Signs of discolouration and fading on the lawn bowling photograph can be seen around the borders of the print where it was once framed.
Hiring a photographer to capture special moments and occasions, such as a lawn bowling tournament or a wedding, was and still remains a signifier of an important event. The damage from photo corners and the level of fading on this wedding image suggest that it was likely a treasured photo, pasted into an album and looked at often before it was donated to the Archives.
Assembling homemade albums filled with personal photographs was common throughout the first century of photography, especially as a method for sharing and storing. Photo albums are associated with storytelling, both orally and through handwritten annotations. The addition of text to photographs, such as the note on the back of the photograph displayed here that reads “See me?”, demonstrates the importance of adding information to create personal narratives and communicate with future audiences.
The two copies of the double exposure photograph present a comparison of machine printing and personal printing. The machine print on the left, besides physical damage, has held up very well. The print on the right has completely yellowed and faded, likely because it was not fixed properly.
The gelatin silver printing process was seen as a step up from the widely popular albumen process, and it quickly became the most common way to print black and white images from a negative on both a commercial and individual scale. Gelatin silver paper was available in two main forms, printing-out paper (POP), and developing-out paper (DOP). While gelatin silver POP prints were produced earlier than gelatin silver DOP prints, it is common to refer to photos made with either process simply as gelatin silver prints (GSPs).
Generally, studio photographers had the knowledge and equipment to process their negatives and produce their own prints, and with the introduction of the gelatin silver DOP process, the commercial production of large amounts of photo prints became fast and more importantly, consistent. In 1888 the first Kodak camera was released, and a shift towards amateur photography took place. Once all the film in the camera had been exposed, the device would be sent back to Kodak for processing, and all consumers needed to do was wait for their prints to be returned in the mail. To practice photography as an amateur meant you relied on photography manufacturing companies. As the use of photography grew in the first half of the 20th century, varieties of cameras and film formats became available in more locations, such as corner drug stores. Photo finishing services offered photographers options for quality, print size and decorative borders.
The gelatin silver process was suited for and adapted to a wide variety of photographic applications, including candid snapshots, personal family photos, art projects, and scientific documentation. The exhibited GSPs are examples of silver gelatin printing processes, formats, and subject matter that photographers on the North Shore were engaging with between the late 1890s and the 1960s.
This portrait of Coast Salish women was likely taken while the pair were berry picking along the West Coast.
Eventually, handheld cameras were carried everywhere.
Casual portraits as well as candid snapshots were taken in every type of setting as the documentation of everyday life and events became integrated into daily routine.
Papers used in silver gelatin processes have been primarily commercially manufactured products. POP and DOP prints are similar in structure – each has a paper support with either baryta (gelatin mixed with white pigment) or resin coating, a layer of light sensitive silver suspended in gelatin, and a surface coating. Printing-out paper would be placed in a contact printing frame with a negative and exposed to light. The silver particles of the image would form as a reaction to the light. Once developed, the print would be washed in water, toned, washed again, fixed, washed in running water, and dried. POPs represent the last type of paper that required printing-out rather than developing-out.
Developing-out paper would be exposed to a negative either through direct contact or with an enlarger, causing a latent image to form where the light hit the paper. When put in a developing bath, the silver particles in the paper react and the image becomes visible. Prints would then be moved to an acid stop bath to halt the silver from developing further, followed by a fixing bath to remove the unexposed silver particles and stabilize the image. The print would then be washed with water and dried, or toned. DOPs must be processed in a light-sealed darkroom.
Gelatin silver prints can experience discolouration (a shift to yellow or yellow-brown) from sulfiding and silver and/or gelatin deterioration. Poor processing, environmental pollutants, or contact with acidic storage enclosures can cause colour shifts and deterioration. Silver mirroring (a white-bluish sheen) is a very common characteristic of GSPs that can occur in image areas of high density (e.g., shadows) where the silver particles have oxidized.
Introduced by the photographic industry in the 1940s. Commonly used from 1942 to present day.
Often called C-Prints, the chromogenic printing process was the most popular full-colour photographic print process of the 20th century. Colour printing papers were released in the 1940s, but it was not until the 1970s that materials and processing costs were low enough for widespread adoption. At that point, colour prints were being produced at the same time as black and white prints, but by the 1990s colour had completely surpassed gelatin silver prints within the commercial photography industry.
Chromogenic prints typically have a smooth and glossy surface sheen, and because most have been produced by photo finishing labs, a stamp or brand logo is usually found on the back. C-prints are still made in the present day and can be created from digital files.
Chromogenic printing was also applied to larger, exhibition style prints. This image shows the installation of a propeller on “Destroyer Escort” at Versatile Pacific Shipyards.
This photo album, which chronicles Louise Barber’s birthday celebrations from 1949 to 1991, is open to a spread that illustrates the transformation from black and white to colour photography in the mid 1960s. Resin Coated (RC) paper, which became the standard for chromogenic printing, was created in the 1970s.
Pre-RC paper had a gelatin emulsion that required a more complicated set of developing steps. The 1966 colour print in the album and the aerial photograph from 1971 were both made with pre-RC paper.
The sets of dye in a chromogenic print can fade at different rates, meaning that prints can shift to a red tone, yellow tone, or blue tone depending on what dye deteriorates first. This set of 4 C-prints, taken at landscape gardener Leslie A. Mitchell’s home in the 1970s, demonstrates colour shifts in images that were likely a similar colour tone when originally printed.
Both manufactured and processed commercially, colour photo paper holds light sensitive silver salts within three separate gelatin image layers. Each layer contains a dye (cyan, magenta, and yellow) in a colourless form. After exposure to a colour negative, the paper goes through a lengthy development process where the dyes in each layer experience a chemical reaction that activates and combines the dye, effectively forming a full colour image. The print would then be bleached and fixed to remove remaining silver particles.
C-prints are extremely light sensitive and are very susceptible to colour shifts and fading. C-prints made around the 1960s and 1970s are more likely to undergo shifts in colour and fading compared to prints made after 1980, due to improvements in paper supports and chemistry. C-prints are best preserved in cold, dark storage.
Invented by Edwin H. Land in 1948.
Colour instant film invented in 1963, used until 2008.
Instant film was often used for documentation purposes because the thick white border around the image allowed for the addition of text. These Sx-70 Polaroids were selected from a set of images that document the removal and demolition of Versatile Pacific Shipyards in the 1990s. One polaroid features handwritten text that describes the site where the image was taken. Processing artifacts of the dye diffusion transfer method were common and are visible on the right edge of this Polaroid.
The dye diffusion transfer process is another name for instant colour photography, and it is associated most commonly with the Polaroid print. Instant film had a large cultural impact on society’s everyday relationship with photography. Instant film cameras could be purchased at drug stores and people no longer had to send film away and wait to receive their prints. Consumers now held more power over their photographic practice, and with that came a shift in viewing photography less as a method of preserving precious moments and instead as a tool to capture moments of spontaneity that could be revisited as soon as they ended. Instant film made photo processing portable, fast, and effortless.
Polaroid prints are recognizable through their standardized sizes, thick mounting paper, and characteristic white borders that surround richly saturated images. Instant photographs are unique objects.
Polaroids use a method called dye development to create full colour prints, which brings image dyes and developers together into one system. Dye diffusion transfer film is essentially a packet that holds a photosensitive negative and positive sheet along with all the chemicals needed to create a finished print. When instant film is loaded into a camera and a photo is taken, the packet rolls through the camera, which causes the foil chemical pod to rupture. All at once, the chemicals develop the negative, the negative is transferred to the positive sheet, and the positive is developed.
Dye diffusion transfer prints are susceptible to colour shifts and fading caused by light exposure and oxidation.
Introduced in the 1980s.
Commonly used from 1990 to present day.
Inkjet printing is a digital photographic printing process that can produce an image of any colour. Inkjet printing overtook the chromogenic process as the most common method of creating colour photographic prints. The tone and quality of inkjet prints can vary depending on the computer and printer technology used, the quality of the original image file, the type of ink used, and the type of support used. Many different types of ink are available, such as pigment or dye-based, and a variety of support types, such as paper, plastic, metal, and fabric are compatible with inkjet printers. Commercially produced supports have a layer designed specifically to receive and hold ink droplets, with modern photographic paper oftentimes being produced to replicate the look and feel of earlier baryta and resin coated papers. Inkjet prints can be made on a commercial scale, or at home with a personal desktop printer.
Inkjet printing was and still is often used by artists and photographers to create prints for exhibition displays. The introduction of archival quality supports made for use with inkjet printers has been effective in endowing art prints with the characteristics of value and permanence. The inkjet prints on display are examples of an early printing method and are permanently mounted on foam core boards. The prints were included in an exhibition of North Vancouver architectural projects that were awarded The Design Excellence Award in 1994.
A digital file and a computer are used to send an electrical signal to a printer, which then converts the received image to an irregular pattern of ink droplets. The droplets are then dispersed onto a support material compatible with the printer. Continuous Inkjet printers work by releasing a continuous stream of charged ink droplets that can either be electronically deflected into “recycling”, or undeflected and allowed to drop onto the support material. Drop-On-Demand (DOD) Liquid Inkjet printers are the most commonly used type of inkjet technology, and work by only releasing droplets of ink onto areas a computer signal requests.
Deterioration of inkjet prints is dependent on the specific materials used to produce the print. Exposure to high temperatures and humidity, light, and environmental pollutants can cause damage to the image such as fading, bleeding, and colour shifting.
Digital cameras first commercially available in the 1980s.
Mobile camera phones in the early 2000s.
Born-digital photographs are everywhere. Today, images discovered online, shared on social media platforms and attached to emails are increasingly born digital. The photographs uploaded to the iPad were taken by David Crerar with a digital camera, and have been further digitally altered to include text that identifies mountain peaks across the North Shore. Crerar’s images are JPEGS that are 4608 x 3072 pixels in size.
Born digital refers to media that originates as and exists in digital formats. Born-digital photographs are images captured with a digital camera, or created and processed on a computer, and do not exist in a tangible format. Born-digital images are not the same as photographs that have been digitized through scanning. While born-digital photographs are not physically grounded in the same way that historical or contemporary print formats are, they are still considered to be valuable cultural artifacts. The practice of transferring, storing, and organizing digital photographs electronically has taken over the tradition of compiling physical print albums. Digital image making is accessible to anyone with an electronic device, making the born-digital process the primary means in which we use and share photography today. Digital image technology continues to evolve.
Digital images are made of pixels organized in a grid, stored on a computer chip. Digital images can be easily manipulated through camera and computer software, and can be reproduced for viewing on various types of screens and formats. Common media file types include TIFF, JPG, PNG, and GIF. Physical prints can be created from born-digital media.
Born-digital photographs have preservation concerns that differ from the needs of physical photographic media. Digital preservation involves the maintenance of file types, which can become corrupt or electronically damaged, as well as the careful preservation and monitoring of the software and media platforms required to present, store and access digital media. Technological obsolescence, digital decay and maintaining access to reliable and secure storage space over time are major concerns in the preservation of born-digital image collections.