History of Photography to 1900 - November 15th, 2006

Les Jones

Past-president Les Jones began his life long interest in photography at a tender age using his aunt's box Brownie. He graduated to 35mm with his father's gift of a Voigtlander Vito-B, later moved up to a Pentax on to the Nikons he uses today in his rugby and soccer photography.

Les Jones and his selection of old cameras

THE WARM-UP EVENT: Hot Air Ballooning Slide Show

An eclectic interest in sports led Les some years ago to hot air ballooning which he recorded on Kodachrome and Fuji slides. There was some fading and colour shift visible in the quarter century old images, but the now obsolete media provided the audience with a peek at the world of hot air ballooning accompanied by a lively narrative. 

Ballooning always begins with a weather report at the start of the day. The ideal is a day with stable winds under 20 miles per hour. The wicker basket hanging below the huge balloon can take three or four passengers. The balloon is made with rubberized tent fabric - a  rip-stop nylon with an anti UV coating. A well as the traditional bulb shape, balloons can be made to look like a house, light bulb, bell, spark pug, Levi jeans, a sheik, the yellow pages, Tony the tiger, a chateau or a pink elephant. A number of companies make balloons. Les mentioned Cameron, one in Newmarket Ontario, and a couple in Britain. The Basic balloon costs around $15,000 and the cost goes up quickly from there. A balloon is good for a maximum of 400 flying hours. 

The hot air generation comes from two Burners and fuel tanks - good for 90 minutes of flight (the longest flight on record is about 8 hours). The pilot uses a large fan to blow air into the balloon while it lies on its side. Once inflation is well underway and the fabric is clear of the burners, the burners are turned on to complete the inflation.

The burners are shut off and the pilot and co-pilot carefully check the fabric on the alert for any burns or tears. A check of wind direction and the burners are re-ignited, generating the heat of 160 furnaces. The balloon struggles and tries to float away - a challenge to hold it down. A final blast of the burner gives lift off and five seconds later you are 100 feet in the air. The burner noise is deafening to the grazing animals beneath the wicker basket. 

Les described some of the events that try a pilots skill. In "Hare and Hounds", the lead balloon takes off setting the course while the rest follow and try to land next to it. At a "Fly-in" event, all balloons take off with the objective to try to hit a target marker. An exciting variation is to place the keys to a new car on a pole. The balloonists try to grab the keys with the winner getting the keys - and the car.

To land the balloon, the burners are stopped and the balloon and its riders drift toward the ground. when a suitable spot is beneath the basket, a roof valve is opened. The last of the hot air escapes and the basket settles back on earth where its occupants contacts the chase crew, who have been tracking the cross-country flight by road, by radio.    

Alberta is our ballooning capital while Brockville and Ottawa have major events. Judy Rauliuk who wasn't able to attend tonight, used to crew balloons. World championships are held each June in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The city is in a box valley and the balloons can easily circle and return to home base. Up to 500 balloons are in air at once making an awesome spectacle. Dusk is best for photographing balloons. The fabric balloons glow at night with the burners all on at once.

Les Jones by
Robert Lansdale
image courtesy of

Except for the balloon image, the images are ©2006 by Robert Lansdale. Contact PHSC if you would like more information on the items discussed on this page. Thanks to Bob Lansdale and Mark Singer for providing images and an audio recording of the talk which I was unable to attend.

Click on the small images to see a larger version in a separate window.

Bob Carter

WATCH THE BIRDIE: Forty-five minutes of History

Given the general knowledge of this evening's audience, Les focussed his talk on some of the myths of popular photographic history beginning with the date it was invented - usually given as January 1839 when the Daguerreotype was officially announced to the world. However, Daguerre's partner, Niepce made a Daguerreotype image as early as 1824 but it only lasted a few minutes. Creating images with the sun can be traced back to 1727 - the problem wasn't in capturing an image, it was in making the image permanent. In 1835 Fox Talbot perfected a means to make permanent images by sunlight which he called photogenic drawing. His method created a negative image in the camera which was then used to make one or many positive images (calotypes) - the foundation of modern silver-based photographic processes. Not realizing the importance of his discovery, he didn't announce it until he learned of Daguerre's discovery. The Daguerreotype process was offered free everywhere except in England. Fox Talbot also charged a licence fee for his process. The first Daguerreotypes required an exposure of some twenty minutes. Rapid improvements in sensitivity followed the 1839 announcement cutting the exposure to two minutes, then one minute and finally a rapid twenty seconds and the taking of a likeness by sunlight finally arrived. 

The camera predates photography by hundreds of years in the form of the camera obscura. The camera lucida, a drawing aid for artists, was invented in 1806 to aid in viewing a scene and drawing paper simultaneously. Fox Talbot credits the use of a camera lucida to sketch scenery at Lake Como in 1834 with sparking his ideas that evolved into the photogenic drawing process a year later. 

The much older camera obscura was literally a dark box with a pin-hole or lens. The lens projected a view on to paper or a light coloured inner wall. This ancestor of the photographic camera was made in all sizes from a small box to a large single room building. The camera obscura has survived to this day as an amusement at some seaside resorts where the room-size device provides a silent but moving view of the tourists and surroundings. A number exist in Europe - fourteen in the UK, one in Havana (see PHSC EMail Newsletter V4-10, page 3), two in the USA, and one in Canada at the Sherman Hines museum in Liverpool NS. 

A smaller version of the camera obscura with a ground glass screen was favoured by Vermeer to capture the signature lighting effect seen in his paintings. Versions of this device were sold to budding artists into the 1900s (see PHSC E-Mail Newsletter Vol 4-11, page 2). 

Permanent photography put many miniaturists artists out of business as the daguerreotype replaced the small painted portrait. Some of the artists survived by applying their talent to colouring the silver images in the Daguerreotype studios. Another popular pre-1839 means of capturing a person's likeness was the Silhouette studio. The point source of candlelight created the necessary sharp shadows to make a good silhouette. The combination of photography and a shift to  overhead lighting and its softer shadows brought an end to the silhouette studio. 

The richly detailed daguerreotype image, created on the surface of the silver plate, can be destroyed by the touch of a finger. Photographers mounted the delicate silver plates in cases originally made to hold painted miniatures. Eventually cases made of wood and leather were made especially for daguerreotype images. In turn, they were replaced by the sturdier union cases mounded from a thermoplastic material. The daguerreotype process was free to everyone in the world - except in England where a licence was required. As a result, only a dozen studios were operating in London by 1851, growing to 154 during the decade. Compare this to America where the process began its growth in 1840 and by 1854 400,000 of the silver images were made in Massachusetts alone - a rich source for collectors today. Most daguerreotypes used silver coated copper plates made in England (Scoville was an American source). The process was popular until around 1860 when it was replaced by the wet-plate. 

The wet-plate uses collodion (originally a wound covering), a sticky fluid that adheres firmly to a glass plate. The collodion is sensitized with silver nitrate. A version of the wet-plate that simulated a daguerreotype was the Ambrotype, invented in England. While a daguerreotype outfit cost about 30 pounds an ambrotype outfit cost a more modest four pounds. The Ambrotype was simply an underexposed wet-plate negative, developed in a way that made the image a dull white positive and mounted over a black background to restore the shadows. Photographers mounted them in union cases in spite of their thicker glass. A similar but cheaper process called the malanotype replaced the glass with black japanned metal. The malanotype was very popular in America where it was known as the tintype. 

The wet-plate and tintype lowered costs thus opening photography to a wider audience of both takers and subjects. It introduced paper prints created from a glass negative (the negative-positive concept was first described by Fox Talbot) and ushered in the era of cheap mass produced images. This in turn supported a market in celebrity photos and albums, for example, in 1861, when Prince Albert died, 70,000 copies of his photograph were sold in one week. In Victorian times many homes boasted a photograph album and visitors were encouraged to add an image of their own to the collection. 

Les touched on some of byways of photography such as the American civil war era tax stamps on images. Other luxury items had tax stamps, but each stamp was destroyed when opening the package. The revenue stamp remained intact on images and instead was marked or initialled by the photographer as a means of cancellation. Cabinet cards, elaborate designs and ads on the back of cards, Stanhopes, and stereo all received comment. 

In spite of the speed and sharpness of the wet plate process - as little as 20 minutes to make, take, and develop a wet plate negative - the huge investment in the camera and lens, darkroom apparatus and chemicals, and the necessary training limited this process mainly to the professionals. The 1860s introduction of fast dry plates further simplified the photographic process. While the concept of dry plates dates back almost to the daguerreotype, it wasn't until the 1860s that a means was discovered to make the dry plate emulsion sensitive enough for exposure in a camera. 

The 1880s saw the introduction of George Eastman's roll film and his famous Kodak camera. This combination of the first practical hand held camera and darkroom work done by Eastman opened up photography to a huge population of unskilled amateurs.  

Les touched on local history mentioning the studios in Toronto along Yonge around King and Queen with the equipment makers close by on Bay Street. The studios were usually on the  top floors taking advantage of daylight for studio lighting. Even Toronto Island had a studio in the late 1800s. Many of the practitioners seemed to find the trade insufficient to pay the mortgage - records abound showing studios with side lines like selling boots and shoes. And in one case Les discovered a photographer who also offered dentistry!    

The three-quarter hour history wrapped up with mention of Canada's oldest camera club - one of the first in North America. The Toronto Camera Club was founded in 1887. Its first exhibit attracted some 1,000 photographs. By 1888 the club's emphasis was on the amateur. Initially, members were well to do business men with leisure time. The TCC grew quickly attracting laymen to its ranks but it remained principally a male-only organization until post World War 2. 

Amongst the visitors this evening were past-president - Michael Oesch - noted for his coast to coast walks, and long time member and subminiature camera enthusiast Brian Morris who retired to Salmon Arm BC some years ago.

Les Jones
wood and brass cameras
Mike Oesch and Brian Morris
Les Jones
Wood & Brass
Mike Oesch (L)
Brian Morris (R)

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