Ode to Argentic Images – well, almost an ode!


A photograph, like a poem, can capture the moment, the essence of a person or place and take it straight to our soul bypassing the intellect.  A poem will go through many drafts and some say is never finished but with digital photography an image such as the one above can be printed or disseminated across the internet within minutes of it being taken although, after spotting the opportunity for a shot, I waited some 10 to 15 minutes before the bird spoke to me.  I used to take photos of the members of the Halliwick Penguins Swimming club, my late wife was a member and with my Nikon F fitted with telephoto lens a polarising and blue filter using a 1500 asa Fuji film, I could take great portraits with the correct colour balance and no unsightly reflections from the water.  Everyone would forget I was there as I wandered around the other side of the pool.  Nowadays I would use Photoshop instead of filters.

The image below I took with a telephoto lens on my Panasonic hybrid camera.  Again I had to be patient and wait.

Damsel Fly A4

Sometimes I have had to just point and click as the opportunity was fleeting.  One such occasion was in St Maixent L’Ecole in France when we came across some Eastern European dancers during the annual music festival.  How I managed to capture the dance in action I don’t know.  It was several years ago.  I used Photoshop to change the image and add the poem I wrote to capture the moment.

Dancer from Eastern Europe

The Daguerreotype was the first publicly available photograph and was used between 1840 to late 1850s.  A polished silver-plated copper plate was coated with a light sensitive colloid and exposed whilst still wet.  This could be tens of minutes.  The image was developed by exposing it to fumed mercury, a dangerous process indeed. The image appeared positive or negative depending on the angle of view.  The finished image was very delicate and had to be kept between glass plates.  Unfortunately I have yet to acquire a daguerreotype.

The Ambrotype , introduced in the mid 1850s, replaced the Daguerreotype.  A wet solution of Silver nitrate was applied to a glass plate which was exposed in the camera.  The exposure time was less and the image was developed and fixed in a much safer way and a black lacquer painted over it.  When viewed through the glass it looked like a positive and was the right way round, as the side with the image was at the back under the black lacquer.  A Daguerreotype is a mirror image.

Ambrotype from about 1860




Tintype hand tinted



The image quality is excellent and sometimes hand tinted as in this image where blue flowers, I believe, have been added to the woman’s hair



Pressed resin case for the Ambrotype




Often the Ambrotype was kept in a small mass-produced, pressed resin case and America supplied most I think.   This means that the images must have been a standard size.





Then came the Tintype introduced in 1860 and used up to the 1930s though I saw a reference to the process not dying out until the early 1950s. An steel sheet is painted with a glossy black lacquer and coated with a solution of silver nitrate and exposed in the camera whilst still  wet.  There was also a dry process with the light sensitive salt held in a thin film of gelatine.  The image was developed and fixed using potassium cyanide, deadly, deadly, but later with thiosulphate or “hypo”.  The image is a negative and a mirror image so left is right and right left.  The black lacquer causes the image to appear as a positive.   It is a robust medium and so many have survived.

Tintypes are perhaps the beginning of what became snapshot photography aimed at ordinary, every-day people and I find them extremely interesting  and have several; they are inexpensive and a valuable social record.  It is absolutely fascinating wondering who they are, why are they having the picture taken.  What was their relationship with each other, what is the story?

Tintype Edwardian




Here an Edwardian couple, seeking a souvenir of their holiday or day out,  posing in a Studio in Ramsgate.



An image could be produced in minutes and were popular in fairgrounds.  The instant photo booth is not new!  Here is one from the USA sent to me by the artist husband of a family friend.

Tintype USA family




It is damaged and a bit crumpled but I like the serious family group and the magnificent beard.  I imagine it being a treasured procession  to be taken out on special occasions or perhaps displayed on a rough log mantle piece; a family heirloom in fact.




The following image is faint and probably means it was taken using the wet process.  Which would have produced a thin film.

Tin type perhaps Edit

It looks a happy group, unusually all are smiling and I love the joy shining out.  It is a mystery as I cannot decide what is nationality of the sitters nor why it has been cut in to the shape it is.

Some Tinplate cameras had up to 12 lenses so could take 12 images at a time.  Here is a photo of one with 4 lenses.


One use for the multi lens cameras is that tiny tintypes, sometimes called “gems” can be produced and these could be incorporated into visiting cards, Carte de Visite.  Below are the front and back of such a card.  On the back is written  an address in Bristol.  I can’t read the rest.  Printed on the card is “9 portraits for 7 1/2” about 15 pence. I suppose this means that the camera had 9 lenses.


Tintype 1920s



When I first saw this I thought “Ah!” 1950s but, on enlarging the photograph I took, I could see that the shoes of the girls in the foreground are pure 1920s.  Another souvenir from beside the sea taken  perhaps by a journeyman photographer.



One of the great functions of my iPhone and Panasonic cameras is that of the panoramic photo.  I have yet to explore it fully but it is great fun.  The image below is of the shrimp fishing structures in Angoulins just south of La Rochelle on the West Coast of France.

Shrimp fishing Angoulins

It was one of the first panoramic photos I took and I was using my iPhone 5.  I am amazed at the detail. Even when printed out 1 metre wide it looked good.

A panoramic camera must have been used for our school photos but I do not have any prints of these.  There is one of me at Pre-medical school in University College London, I wanted to become a psychiatrist but needed to qualify as a doctor first.  I was there for a year after working for one year as an operating theatre technician in a local hospital.  I soon realised that my memory was just not good enough to continue my studies.

UCH Medical school 1962 or 3152 larger

What a year!  Andrew Huxley was professor of physiology – my favourite subject – and he was awarded a Nobel prize for his work on the giant squid neuron.  Boy, was there cheering and hollering as he walked across the quadrangle; it was one of the occasions I will never forget.  If you want to find me, follow the left hand corner of the masonry wall down and I am in the third row up, slightly right of centre.

A panoramic camera was an early development.  Kodak introduced the Panoram No 1 in 1900 just a few years after the development of the first roll film.  I am trying to find one but they are too costly at present so here is a photo of one I captured from the web.

Kodak Panoram No 1

There is no shutter the lens is cocked by pulling to the left or right and it swings in a 120 degree arc projecting the light onto the film held against a curve.  Using 120 film 4 images could be produced.  I found 5 prints produced by the Panoram on a postcard stall and they fascinated me and for £1 were  a bargain!  Here is a couple of them.

Kodak Panoram 1 146

Kodak Panoram 1 145

The poem mentions old postcards from the First World War but they are for another blog; this has gone on long enough.


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