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The following is from an oral history of a woman born in 1888. She is speaking of a travelling photographer coming through town when she was a child. She says, "If it was a good day you got your pictures quickly otherwise we waited for the sun’s bidding. I recall seeing the little glass frames sitting all around the outside of the tent containing the pictures developed in the sun." Would these have been Daguerreotypes?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Maybe using some kind of sun printing process to make contact prints on paper from glass negatives? \$\endgroup\$ Jan 10, 2020 at 19:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ It sounds like the person may have been confused about how photographic development works; cf. @SolomonSlow's comment. But could the first mention of the "sun's bidding" also refer to the moment the picture is taken, i.e. the photographer waiting for a more favourable lighting condition? The mention of "glass frames", together with the timing, would suggest the collodion wet plate process or the dry plate process rather than daguerreotype. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kahovius
    Jan 10, 2020 at 20:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Any idea on what area this was in? ~1895-1905 and a specific enough region might be able to net you possible photographers involved. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 10, 2020 at 21:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ What is the source of the quote? Is it from a real person? Are you writing a historical fiction novel? (Question title appears to be in the form of a hypothetical.) \$\endgroup\$
    – xiota
    Jan 11, 2020 at 8:04

1 Answer 1

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Most cameras of that era were loaded not with film but with a coated glass plate. The coat, called an emulsion had low sensitivity to light so most pictures were made outside in sunlight.

Once the picture was taken, the glass plate was removed from the camera. The next step was to take the now exposed glass plate into a darkroom and swish it in chemicals that caused the plate to be developed into a negative picture. This was a negative image, what is white on the subject is black on the negative and what is black on the subject is clear glass. In other words, this negative black & white image is useless as a picture until printed on paper.

The negative glass plate, in the dark room, was then sandwiched atop a piece of white paper. A wood frame with a window glass cover kept the negative and paper pressed together tightly. This apparatus was taken out, into the sunlight. The negative protected some areas of the paper from the light. Other areas of negative were less opaque and the sunlight is able to play on the paper. After about 5 or 8 minutes a “sun-print” was seen. In other words the sunlight darkened some areas of the paper and some areas remained white or various shades of gray.

In any event, this sun-print is a positive image; it resembles black & white pictures commonly produced today. Once the sun printing was done, the paper was removed from the frame and chemically treated to make the image permanent. Such printing methods lasted until the late 1950’s.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ There were also amateur/portable enlargers that used sunlight. \$\endgroup\$
    – xenoid
    Jan 10, 2020 at 22:14

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