and now for something completely different

Schiffer Publishing’s
History of Philco Radios

Toronto. No, not the Flying Circus routines of Monty Python fame. A couple of decades ago I dealt with a small private publisher in Pennsylvania called Schiffer Publishing Ltd. I was interested in the quilting books they published. The books would sell well in my store. Later, I sent for a catalog and to my delight, I saw that while their main business was military history books, they also published a few  books for collectors and included a small collection of books for collectors of phonographs and radios. I bought a few about brands or devices of interest to me. One was Philco.

When I was a kid, my mother had a call from a neighbour who had an old radio for me. I took my wagon across the street and up the long sloping  driveway to the kitchen door. A strange radio with a heavy speaker on top was sitting in a wooden box waiting for me. That night, I was pleased to discover that it worked and was very sensitive (all radios of that period were AM which meant amplitude modulation). It turned out to be a Philco 90-A radio (made in 1931 as I learned long after it was taken apart). Old Jack Gribble, a radio repairman in town gave me a schematic diagram for it. Years later I bought a Philco SB-100 transistor which worked up in the 10 meter short-wave band and made a tiny tuner, but that’s another story.

The other day, I had an email from Schiffer Publishing that brought the old radio to mind again.  Their current catalog also has a handful of photography books they publish – which may be why I was emailed at the phsc address!

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Wet-Plate Photography

Tintype – Stephen Brûlé

Toronto. PHSC Meeting, Wed, Sept 19 2018 at 7:00 pm
In the BURGUNDY ROOM of the Memorial Hall

Wet-Plate Photography – Stephen Brûlé
The technology of wet-plate photography was invented by Frederick Scott Archer in 1851. It replaced the first commercially  successful processes, the Daguerreotype and the salt paper negatives. Wet-Pate was used by Mathew Brady to record the American Civil War – a war that prompted the formation of the Dominion of Canada in 1867.

Stephen Brûlé, a graduate of Ryerson, is a Toronto photographer who works with the century and a half old wet-plate process. Join Stephen on September 19th and discover this remarkable process that once was the mainstay of photographers world-wide. The process was both an improvement over the earlier processes and a complication. Much better resolution than paper negatives, yet able to easily be replicated. Alternatives to prints were Ambrotypes and Tintypes that were made in camera and chemically reversed to make a positive.

The process was slow enough to require a tripod, even outdoors and complex enough to demand the camera negative remain wet until processed and developed. Sound familiar? Yes, it is embodied in our logo – the wet-plate man.

The public is always welcome. Go to our Programs page for directions.

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Taking of Niagara – review

Dr Anthony Bannon
by Robert Lansdale

TorontoOn May 16, 2018 we held our second meeting in the newly remodelled Burgundy room A at the North York Memorial Hall. We were pleased to have Dr Anthony Bannon retired from the GEM as our guest speaker. Tony spoke of the photographing of Niagara Falls in the early decades of photography. Since its discovery, the Falls has attracted artists and photographers. Over the years we have had other talks on Niagara such as its industry and history by Dr Norman Ball, and dating images by Ken Nelson (dtdfu, or Dead Trees Don’t Fall Up).  

As expected of his education and experience, Tony gave a terrific scholarly talk on the famous falls well illustrated by images he had selected. He managed to include Canadian references when possible which was greatly appreciated by the audience. He began speaking with an historical overview of the falls and arguably the first drawing ever made of the famous falls, by the Belgian explorer, (Franciscan Father) Louis Hennepin. Hennepin is said to have estimated the falls to be about 600 feet in height, possibly an error since an accurate measure today is 183 feet high. Also he grossly exaggerates Goat Island in his drawings.  Continue reading

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Salt and Silver 1840 – 1860 Exhibition

Salt Prints c 1840-1860
Yale Center for British Art

Toronto. We often see and hear about the daguerreotype process as it was common and free throughout the world except in England where a licence had to be purchased. This exhibition celebrates the British salt prints of the Fox Talbot process. The narrator of the video, Chitra Ramalingam of the Yale Center for British Art shows a selection of the prints on display (June 28th to September 9th) but doesn’t identify the photographer other than to state some were taken by the earliest woman photographer on record. The video was posted to the BBC web site a couple pf days ago on August 5th.

Take a peek at these salt paper prints. The prints have proven to be very durable since first printed – a tribute to William Henry Fox Talbot’s process which was perfected a couple of years  before the daguerreotype but only announced to the world a few weeks after the daguerreotype on January 31st, 1839. Continue reading

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Deep Sea Photography – review

Meaghan Ogilvie
by Robert Lansdale

TorontoOur second speaker of the April meeting was Meaghan Ogilvie, an underwater photographer.  Like Ms Joyce, Meaghan wanted to promote family, in  her case to make better known and raise research funds for a rare, currently incurable condition, Multiple System Atrophy (MSA) diagnosed in her father. Meaghan was open, candid, and charming in her talk. Although she was unaccustomed to public speaking, she made up for it with her enthusiasm. I found out later that she is very effective promoting her work and herself in this digital world. 

Meaghan attended Sheridan College’s program for Commercial Photography, but switched paths when she found her strength was in Fine Art Photography. At the time she began her body of work, few did underwater photography. She brought with her tonight her $5,000 Canon camera, housed in its watertight container. Even in water, it’s very heavy and wearying for her to use in day-long shoots. Continue reading

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the summer of ’69

First Born – Summer 1969

Toronto. “the summer of 69” is a line in the Bryan Adams song of the same name released as a single in 1985 (and on the album Reckless a year earlier). In later years, Adams took up the profession of photography as well.

1969 was quite a year all in all. My first child was born. I won first prize with this portrait of her and a nurse in a gloomy night-time hallway at The Montreal General using my Exakta bought about a decade earlier.

Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon.  And in 1969, the first photographs ever taken on another celestial object were recorded. It was a momentous year!

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Photographic Canadiana 44-2 goes to press

Volume 44 Issue 2
Photographic Canadiana

Toronto. Hey folks, our wonderful journal issue 44-2 goes to press this coming week. It will be in the mail to members a few short weeks later. Not a member? No problem! just hit the PayPal button on the right sidebar and you’re in business (choose the appropriate payment fee in the dropdown, of course).

By the way, “44” means this is the 44th consecutive year we have been in publication! All of the first 40 volumes are available free to new members on registration. These volumes are searchable pdfs on a DVD!

Editor Lansdale has worked hard this summer to bring you another tasty issue. Included are, Toronto notes for our last four speakers before summer break; The Kingston Royal Tour of 1897; The spring fair; Daphne Yeun’s thesis on digitizing photographic history; A Contarex D; and Pannotypes. All this in a large 24 page issue with no advertising!

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pre photography in 1826

backyard at the home of Nicéphore Niépce at Le Gras, France c 1826

Toronto. We take photography for granted today. A smartphone, or a digital camera and a computer is all you need to see and share your photos. Your printer can even make hard copies if you wish. But this was not always the case. Most of us used film and chemistry to take and print photos up until this current century began.

In 1826, a Frenchman took was has been considered the very first “photo” before the name “photography” was even coined. The Frenchman, Nicéphore Niépce, was an inventor determined to improve on the lithography process. He wanted a means to capture a scene by sunlight and circumvent any need for manual effort to draw the scene before it was ready for printing via lithography.

The famous view from his back window took eight hours to capture on a pewter plate coated with bitumen of Judea (asphalt) and developed in an oil that washed off any asphalt not hardened by sunlight creating a rather fuzzy image. He sent the plate to a relative in England the following year. He joined forces with another Frenchman, Louis Daguerre. Sadly, Niépce died in 1833, six years before the world was electrified with the new process called Daguerreotypy. The world little realized just  how disruptive the new art of photography would become!

And the 1826 plate? It disappeared in 1898 only to surface a half century later in 1951 when a trunk was opened before the contents were auctioned. The trunk had been in storage since 1917!

My thanks to George Dunbar who found the story in an old issue of LIFE dated April 21, 1952 on page 18.

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high and mighty

View of NYC atop the Empire State Building
by John Dearing c1952

Toronto. This photo of the big apple reminds me of PHSC member, the late Boris Spremo in his heyday a top the CN tower to shoot Toronto. In 1952, the RCA TV tower was the world’s highest TV antenna high above 34th Street and 5th Avenue in Manhattan.

John (Jack) Dearing was an Engineer for RCA as well as a photographer who took this fish-eye view of the area surrounding the Empire State Building. Much of the antenna connection line was built with metal supplied by Anaconda Copper Mining who owned Anaconda American Brass in New Toronto where my father-in-law once worked running the high speed Sendzimir or Zee-Roll that squeezed the copper rolls to their final thickness.

Before we married, my wife and I visited the Empire State Building. We entered a small hole in the wall door off 5th Avenue that led to a grubby corridor and on to a payment desk and high speed elevator that (once we paid) shot us up to the observation tower floor, a crowded space that let us see much of the area shown in the above left photo. The observation floor was down below the bow tie antennae you see here, roughly where the base of the shadow seems to touch the tower.

Thanks to George Dunbar who spotted this interesting photograph in the April 7th, 1952 issue of the wonderfully pictorial and long lamented LIFE magazine based in the big Apple.

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Magical Mystery (Makeover Studio) Tour – review

Yvette Bessels
by Robert Lansdale

TorontoAt Our June 2018 meeting, Yvette Bessels spoke on her experiences with photo studios using makeovers as a means to create attractive portraits. As befits our program secretary, her talk was a model of how to present to an audience of knowledgable people. She was engaging in her presentation and spoke to each person in the audience. She used a short video to explain the makeover in general. As part of the Q&A after her presentation, Yvette spoke of her own plans as a photographer. Her talk was all the more impressive as it took place suddenly when our scheduled speaker had to bow out due to a work meeting called in NYC on short notice. Continue reading

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