A Sensitive Thing

Silver Nitrate

Toronto. After 1851 when Frederick Scott Archer invented the first practical wet-plate process, you could tell a photographer from his blackened finger-tips. This situation came about by the practitioner’s need to sensitize his glass plate with a silver nitrate solution.

First, a collodion emulsion was carefully poured over the clean glass plate. This viscous emulsion stuck to the glass and offered a base for the silver halide bath (the silver nitrate and collodion – the viscous emulsion –  form light sensitive silver halides). The whole gooey mess had to be moved to the camera, the camera to the scene for the shot, and back to the darkroom to develop the negative, all before the sensitized emulsion dried. Even in bright daylight a tripod was a necessity for sharp images.

And the bottle shown here was an essential ingredient to create a media sensitive to a brief daylight exposure in the camera, suitably mounted on a tripod, of course…

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