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Roger Fenton

ROGER FENTON, from 'Photography in France' (1852)

Presuming that many of the facts here stated are well known to many of our photographers, I will mention, first of all, that there is a photographic society in Paris, having a fixed place of meeting, and a regular organ of publicity.

Its head quarters are, at present, in a part of the house of its president, the Col. de Montfort. An entire suite of apartments, consisting of 4 or 5 rooms, atr the top of the house, of course, and opening on to an extensive terrace, with an excellent light, is devoted to the purposes of the society. One room is entirely occupied, walls, drawers, and cupboards, with choice specimens of the art, mostly in metal; another is fitted up as a laboratory, one corner of which is an enclosure surrounded with yellow curtains, to exclude the light. In fact there is every requisite facility, both for receiving the amateurs in a suitable locale, and for their trying, experimentally, any new development of the science.

The society includes in its ranks many of the most distinguished of the French artists, who, as a body, have been much more quick than our own in appreciating the great advantages which this science presents to the careful and conscientious interpreter of nature, and the complete extinguisher it puts upon the artist who seeks success by tricky effects of colour, and oppositions of light and shade.

In the lower part of the same house, a laboratory shop has been opened by Mr. Puech, exclusively for the manufacture and sale of photographic chemicals.

The proceedings of the Society are regularly reported in a weekly journal under the title of La Lumiere, the bureau of which was also, until lately, in the house if not under the direction of M. de Montfort. It has, however, recently been established upon an independent footing, though still connected with the Society. In th eoffice of the journal is an album of specimens illustrating the progress of the art sicne its first application to the production of paper pictures. Containing. not only a collection of artistic proofs, but also results of the various experiments by which advances in the science have from time to time been made, this album forms an invaluable record of the history of photography.

In this, as in every other pursuit, the most complete results are obtained by the division of labour. It demands study of one kind to obtain a clear and brilliant negative impression. To produce from that negative a positive picture of any shade of colour that may be desired, and of depth and richness of tone, requires a separate experience, and considerable length of practice.

It is often found by the photographer that all the time which he can give to his favorite pursuit, is insufficient to do all that he wishes in the acquisition of satisfactory negatives. When he is so fortunate as to produce one which will, as th ephrase goes, print well, he is more solicitous to repeat his success in the reproduction of some new object than to proceed immediately to the multiplication of th epositive copies of his pictures, a result which he knows can be attained at any time.

This want is provided for in Paris, by the establishment in the rue St. Nicolas d'Antin, No. 72, of a photographic printing establishment, the director of which devotes his time to the study of the positive photograph.

For a small charge, the positive pictures are here printed off, and fixed, so as to present any colour, or gradation of colour and tone that may be previously decided upon by the owner of the negative. When it is remembered how, in the process of fixing. the colour of the picture is never actually stationary: and how, to produce a certain colour, it is often necessary to remove the picture, at different stages of its progress, from one bath of hyposulphite to another, it will at once be seen of what advantage it must be, that a process demanding such watchfulness and discriminating observation should be made a separate and special department of the science. Why, in fact, should not the reproduction of these positive photographs be as distinct an occupation from the making of the negative type, as is the engraving of a steel plate, from the taking impressions of it upon paper. . . .

So much for the machinery of the study of photography in France. There are yet other advantages which they possess on that side of the water; - such as the absence of any patent interfering with the enterprise of individuals, and the liberal encouragement given by the late government, to the eminent in photographic skill. I was shown, in October last, by M. Le Gray, the author of the wax process, and M. Mestral, an ingenious amateur, several hundred negatives, made by them for the government, during a tour in the provinces, from which they had just returned. The subjects were mostly such as were equally interesting to the antiquarian and the lover of the picturesque.

I may mention here, that the wax process by which these pictures were produced seems to have superseded in practical employment all the other kinds of prepared paper.

At present, excited by the accounts from England, they are all occupied with experiments on collodion. In company with M. de Montfort, I made essays with collodion prepared by M. Puech. Neither these nor subsequent ones made with collodion brought from England, were very promising. Some collodion transmitted to me subsequently by M. Puech, of his preparation, presents great tenacity and adhesiveness and but a very small amount of sensitiveness, as compared with that sold by Messrs. Archer, Horne, & Co., Knight, and other English chemists.

Into the question, however, of the comparative utility of different processes, I do not wish to enter at present; I have merely stated what measures are adopted in France to advance photographic knowledge by combination, emulation, and publicity; and what assistance is rendered by the government. From our rulers, it is not our practice to seek or hope for any assistance in such matters; but surely it is something strange that in the organisation of the voluntary system of mutual assistance, we should have to receive lessons from Frenchmen.


 


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