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Journey – From Photographic Prints To Films

Photography has come a long way since the invention of the Daguerréotypes and the Calotypes. Photographic prints are as important to photography as is the camera. You can have the camera, the technology but if you can’t take a photographic print, you can’t see how the picture has come out.

Though, with the advent of digital cameras, the use of photographic prints has been taken to the point of becoming obsolete. The Daguerréotype process involved the use of metal sheets and a positive silver image was fixed on top of the metal sheet. William Henry Fox Talbot was the man responsible for moving a step ahead by using a negative through which multiple prints could be made.

Around 1856, Hamilton Smith patented a process termed as Tintypes. The process used a thin sheet of iron as the base to yield a positive image. In 1889, it was made simpler by George Eastman, who realized the true potential of the photography market. He released a film that had a flexible base for easy rolling. The emulsion coated cellulose nitrate film base made the process of shooting images easier.

Now photographers could carry their boxed cameras without worrying about the large and cumbersome plates. Eastman’s first camera was launched in 1888 and came with a preloaded film. Once the pictures were taken, the camera with the films had to be sent to the Kodak factory where these films were translated into photo prints.

Even though the camera was well on its way to popularity, the film rolls were available only in Black and White. So Photography of that period was devoid of colors. B&W films were made of cellulose nitrate that is a chemical compound that is similar to guncotton. A film with a nitrate base will deteriorate with time and in the process would release acidic gasses and oxidants. The nitrate base film was also highly flammable. Nitrate films actually built the foundation for the first flexible roll films. It also created the base for development of the 35-mm roll film in the mid 1920’s.

By the end of 1920, the medium type roll film came into existence. This film roll was 6cms wide and was covered with a paper sheet to make it easy for anyone to carry it along in broad daylight. Nine years later, the TLR or the twin reflex camera was developed.

By the beginning of the 1940’s, the film roll market had gained momentum and color films were born. Though by 1935, Kodak had already developed their color film called Kodachrome. The new color films used the dye-coupled colors technology. This technology used a chemical process, which connected the 3 layers of dye together to create a color image. This system is still in use.

The next discovery and development was that of a Triacetate film that was fireproof and more flexible. Most of the photographic films till the 1970’s were using this technology. The films used now come with T-grain emulsions. These are basically light sensitive silver halides in the shape of a T to render a fine grain pattern.

In the age of the digital cameras, it is hard to really imagine what next will come out of the Pandoras Box.

Seth Willis

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