If you are curious about how photographs are made and printed, you may want to check out a new collection available at the Anderson Reading Room: Formats of Photography Study Collection (PICT 2021-012). This collection attempts to gather samples of photographic techniques and print formats in one convenient group. With examples of the earliest photographs (salted paper prints and daguerreotypes) through 21st century digital prints, it is possible to closely examine, and carefully handle, dozens of types of photographs.
Pictured here are examples of daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and tintypes from the Formats of Photography Study Collection (PICT 2022-012, Box 1). It may not be possible to assess which is which from this digital image file - come see the originals to test your perceptivity of visual materials!
Here is a tray of early lantern slides, sometimes called "magic lantern slides." While they are not photographic, these images on glass might have been used in conjunction with a gas-powered lantern, projected as entertainment or to illustrate some sort of lesson.
"Magic" lantern slides, from the Formats of Photography Study Collection (PICT 2022-012, Box 1)
The collection also presents a series of comparative materials, including charts with magnified depictions of distinguishing visual characteristics of photographs, a darkroom data guide with photographic paper types from 1963, and a sampling of photo finishing and film processing envelopes from the early 20th century.
We anticipate that this collection will be added to over time -- please let us know what additions you'd like to see!
When judging by eye, it can be challenging to tell a "real" photograph from one reproduced by mechanical means. At its simplest, a photograph uses light-sensitive media to produce a visible image. A photomechanical reproduction may or may not use light sensitivity during the production phase, but also uses other printing processes to create images. Very close examination using magnification will generally show the difference: an image composed of continuous tones vs. an image with a distinct printing pattern.
With experience, some astute students of photography can assess various photo-mechanical AND photographic print techniques!
Partial views of the "Flowchart for Identification Guide," from Care and Identification of 19th-Century Photographic Prints, by James M. Reilly.
UNM holds an impressive collection of photobooks -- books illustrated with photographs, and books about photography -- to support looking at photographs as well as the study of photography. There are volumes presenting various photographer's bodies of work, others using photography to illustrate a visual theme, and innumerable examples of books about the practice of photography for artistic, scientific, commercial or other purposes. Further, the CSWR preserves books where the photography is notable, even when the subject of the book is something else.
Photomechanical reproductions are commonly used to illustrate books, but during the mid 19th to early 20th centuries, photography was a still evolving technology, and an exciting way to include realistic pictures in the publication process. Thus, some "old books" are preserved for the original photographs they contain.
This unassuming photographic print of the Hancock House in Boston is tipped in as the frontispiece of the 1854 book Homes of American Statesmen. As the catalog entry notes, it is "the first American book illustrated with an original photograph," a salted paper print, also called a sun picture.
Viewing a lantern slide with CSWR student employee Izzy.
Do you have a passion for pictures? Do you ask yourself: what am I seeing? how was it made, what does it show? or even what is not in the picture frame?
In the 2023 Love in the Archives offering from the photograph archives, let's consider ways to look at, and to learn from & with photographic materials.
Do you feel comfortable assessing what you are looking at? Is it an albumen print or a gelatin silver print? What is the difference between a postcard and a "real photo" postcard? Are the illustrations in books "real" photographs? For that matter, what is and is not a photograph?
While some answers are elusive, pursuing them is at the heart of a love of learning with photographs.