Historical negatives - query about processing and connections

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Gareth l

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Hi,

I'm co-authoring a revision of a historic image database and I have a problem which I was hoping someone here might be willing to help with. To clarify whilst we just specialise in the context and provenance of the images we deal with, not any sort of technical discussion of the photographs themselves, but I think this might be a really simple question for someone who knows what they're doing.

We have a set of four images (1-4) taken in 1930 for which the negatives exist. They were taken by an amateur photographer who processed them himself. We can be absolutely sure that they were all taken on the same day and within a fairly short space of time. Unfortunately I'm not able to post any publicly due to restrictions agreed with their owner. Each is in portrait format as are all known prints, all of which are in black and white.

We also have two further images (5-6) which were definitely taken at exactly the same time and place, and of the same subject. However, the negatives for these are unknown. Each of their known prints are square, most are sepia, but one is in black and white.

5 and 6 were definitely processed separately, the images would have been of considerable interest at the time and have become valuable in the following decades. There is no doubt they would have attracted interest from professional photographers and researchers.

I have to determine whether or not the prints of the two images (5-6) could have been made from two now missing negatives from the series of four (1-4), which the archival evidence appears to suggest, or whether there must have been two separate photographers, which the circumstantial evidence suggests. Essentially, what I'm asking is whether it would would be possible to make a sepia print from a black and white negative in 1930? I imagine it would have been, but I need to exclude this as an absolute objection.

Thanks for reading, if anyone is able to help I'd be very grateful.
 
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Peltigera

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All sepia prints were made from black and white negatives. There is no such thing as a sepia negative. The date is immaterial - black and white prints were being tinted sepia a very long time before 1930.
 

Ian Grant

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I don't think there's any way to determine whether 5 & 6 were taken by the same as photographer as 1-4, or a different photographer or camera. I guess the style of the images/composition, look in terms of tonality, depth of field, etc, might help suggest if they were made by the same photographer.

Ian
 

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would be possible to make a sepia print from a black and white negative in 1930?

AS pointed out, a sepia print is a black and white print, and in 1930 would invariably have been made from a black and white negative.

However, there's a caveat: The term 'sepia print' is used for either silver gelatin prints that are then sepia toned, or one of the several silver-based 'alternative' printing processes, most notably Van Dyke Brown. Since these are contact printing processes, any print made would have to be of the same size as the original negative. Although also in 1930 it would have been possible to enlarge an existing small negative to a larger size, invert it and then contact print it. However, the odds of that workflow having been followed would of course be somewhat less than a direct contact print from the same negative - it just can't be excluded.

As you can see, the outcome of your analysis does indeed depend on some technical details. Without knowing those or having access to a good digital reproduction of the images, I find it hard to say anything conclusive.

Usually it's of course possible to determine on image content alone if two prints were made from the same negative. Two photographers would have been awfully exacting in order to produce two negatives that produce truly indistinguishable prints. I'd certainly suggest this route and provided there is no difference whatsoever in image content (viewing angle, lighting conditions, any kind of details and defects etc) it would be fairly safe to assume both prints stem from the same negative.
 
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Gareth l

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All sepia prints were made from black and white negatives. There is no such thing as a sepia negative. The date is immaterial - black and white prints were being tinted sepia a very long time before 1930.

Fantastic. That's that resolved. Thank you very much.
 
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Gareth l

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I don't think there's any way to determine whether 5 & 6 were taken by the same as photographer as 1-4, or a different photographer or camera. I guess the style of the images/composition, look in terms of tonality, depth of field, etc, might help suggest if they were made by the same photographer.

Ian

Hi,

They're all but identical in terms of composition, distance, angle etc. The photographers would have to have been shoulder to shoulder practically. We always considered them to be by the same photographer, but then other types of evidence led us to start questioning that. The absence of 5 and 6 amongst the other negatives, that they were in circulation separately during the 50s. We also have a 1955 police report about the finding of what must have been 1-4 (they're of endangered wildlife) which describes a single version of one of the images whereas the scene it depicts is repeated across both sets. It's just a host of contradictory details like that.
 
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Gareth l

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AS pointed out, a sepia print is a black and white print, and in 1930 would invariably have been made from a black and white negative.

However, there's a caveat: The term 'sepia print' is used for either silver gelatin prints that are then sepia toned, or one of the several silver-based 'alternative' printing processes, most notably Van Dyke Brown. Since these are contact printing processes, any print made would have to be of the same size as the original negative. Although also in 1930 it would have been possible to enlarge an existing small negative to a larger size, invert it and then contact print it. However, the odds of that workflow having been followed would of course be somewhat less than a direct contact print from the same negative - it just can't be excluded.

As you can see, the outcome of your analysis does indeed depend on some technical details. Without knowing those or having access to a good digital reproduction of the images, I find it hard to say anything conclusive.

Usually it's of course possible to determine on image content alone if two prints were made from the same negative. Two photographers would have been awfully exacting in order to produce two negatives that produce truly indistinguishable prints. I'd certainly suggest this route and provided there is no difference whatsoever in image content (viewing angle, lighting conditions, any kind of details and defects etc) it would be fairly safe to assume both prints stem from the same negative.

That's very interesting thank you. Is it possible that a process like that could have damaged the original negatives?

As to size, I first found one of the sepia prints of 5-6 hanging in a gallery, it was about 6'x6', whereas the portariat shape negatives 1-4 are far smaller.

We've no information about the camera itself unfortunately, and no means of finding out. To be honest, we're working with scraps.

Unfortunately, whilst I can post one image of each set, both of which are long in the public domain, I can't publicly post any pictures of the negatives due to an undertaking given to the owners. I can send them by PM but as I understand it that isn't availableto new members.
 
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Gareth l

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This makes a contact print from a large format negative extremely unlikely.

By the sound of it, the prints are made from the exact same negative.

Well, endangered but at that time with only very limited legal protection, and that was only really applicable to their export. The event was covered at the time and the police investigation was just a retrospective fact finding excercise to try and determine the last time somebody saw one.
 
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snusmumriken

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The term 'sepia print' is used for either silver gelatin prints that are then sepia toned, or one of the several silver-based 'alternative' printing processes, most notably Van Dyke Brown. Since these are contact printing processes, any print made would have to be of the same size as the original negative. Although also in 1930 it would have been possible to enlarge an existing small negative to a larger size, invert it and then contact print it. However, the odds of that workflow having been followed would of course be somewhat less than a direct contact print from the same negative - it just can't be excluded.
I guess you mean "Since the latter [i.e. non silver-gelatine processes] are contact printing processes..."? Any black-and-white silver gelatine print, whether contact print or enlargement, can be sepia-toned with sulphide after bleaching: no intermediate negative is necessary. Also no risk to the original negative.

Others here will have far better historical knowledge than I, but I believe in the 1930s most amateurs would not have owned enlargers, so contact printing would have been the norm, using sunlight and special Contact printing paper, which however can be sulphide toned. Negatives on film (or plates) would usually have been rectangular, not square format.

As to size, I first found one of the sepia prints of 5-6 hanging in a gallery, it was about 6'x6', whereas the portariat shape negatives 1-4 are far smaller.
Do you mean 6 feet square or 6 inches square? It would be useful to know the physical dimensions of the existing portrait format negatives; also whether the square format scene could have been achieved by cropping from similar negatives - because if not, a different camera or standpoint is implied.
 

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I guess you mean "Since the latter

This is correct.

I believe in the 1930s most amateurs would not have owned enlargers, so contact printing would have been the norm, using sunlight and special Contact printing paper

Many or even most amateurs in the 1930s would have indeed contact printed, but usually using artificial light. Still, enlargers were common enough to have been a possibility; a bit like how many photographers today also use 'semi-professional' gear. A print from the 1930s can indeed very well be an enlargement. Usually it's possible to tell from visual inspection.


Is it possible that a process like that could have damaged the original negatives?

With 'alternative' contact printing processes, damage to original negatives is indeed conceivable, especially in the hands of an inexperienced printer. Someone who did this a lot wouldn't have made such a rookie mistake, though. The problem in your particular case is that there are many likelihoods, but very few hard guarantees.
 
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Gareth l

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I guess you mean "Since the latter [i.e. non silver-gelatine processes] are contact printing processes..."? Any black-and-white silver gelatine print, whether contact print or enlargement, can be sepia-toned with sulphide after bleaching: no intermediate negative is necessary. Also no risk to the original negative.

Others here will have far better historical knowledge than I, but I believe in the 1930s most amateurs would not have owned enlargers, so contact printing would have been the norm, using sunlight and special Contact printing paper, which however can be sulphide toned. Negatives on film (or plates) would usually have been rectangular, not square format.


Do you mean 6 feet square or 6 inches square? It would be useful to know the physical dimensions of the existing portrait format negatives; also whether the square format scene could have been achieved by cropping from similar negatives - because if not, a different camera or standpoint is implied.

Sorry, I wrote feet instead of inches. I'd say that the negatives are about 6" by 4". Whereas the print of one of the other two was about 6" x 6", I might be a bit out there though as the priority at the time was to try and find out about the background from the curator. I didn't think to take details about the image itself. Stupid, but as what I though at the time was just another ohoto of a well understood ( or so I thought then), I didn't take that much notice.

Thanks for the comment about the liklihood that an amateur owning enlarging equipement, that's really helpful and might explain a few of the contradictions we've identified. If the images are unlikely to have been elarged by an amateur, it might suggest that two of the negatives were passed on to a professional, who subsequently made their own prints. This would fit with the rather scrambled provenance we have for the images, and there's a precedent for this with an image that was taken of the animal the previous day.

Thanks for the help , much appreciated.
 

koraks

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I'd say that the negatives are about 6" by 4".

The likely film format close to this would be 4x5". This was a common format, and still is.
It's also a format that allows the kind of 'sepia prints' I discussed earlier. When you said 'wildlife', I had in mind a more dynamic scene than apparently was the case, since 4x5" negatives are generally made with rather static equipment on a tripod. Again, there are exceptions, but as a general rule, when the film format is in this range, assume a tripod was used.

As you noted, there are many possibilities. Several negatives from several photographers, but also several prints made by several printers/photographers. And there's still the possibility of several prints being made by different means by one and the same person.

It's a nice puzzle. I love puzzles :smile:
 

Ian Grant

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Could also be Half Plate, 6½" x 4¾", it was a more common format in the early 1930s here in the UK., Postcard size is another option. The most common plate sizes in the UK pre-WWII were Quarter plate, Half plate and Whole plate and cameras were available from many manufacturers, only a few made 5x4 cameras, and even less Postcard size, as well.

If the negatives are film based there were also a number of quite large roll film formats like 110 (5x4) and 126 (Half plate).

Ian
 
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Gareth l

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Could also be Half Plate, 6½" x 4¾", it was a more common format in the early 1930s here in the UK., Postcard size is another option. The most common plate sizes in the UK pre-WWII were Quarter plate, Half plate and Whole plate and cameras were available from many manufacturers, only a few made 5x4 cameras, and even less Postcard size, as well.

If the negatives are film based there were also a number of quite large roll film formats like 110 (5x4) and 126 (Half plate).

Ian

We're in Australia with these photos. That would probably be the same as here though, although American imports were pretty common in some things too.

I know Kodak had a branch nearby.
 

Ian Grant

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We're in Australia with these photos. That would probably be the same as here though, although American imports were pretty common in some things too.

I know Kodak had a branch nearby.

Pre-WWII there would have been few US photographic imports to Australia & New Zealand, Harringtons Ltd in Sydney were one of the major importer/distributors, the other was Kodak (Australia) PTY Ltd, a subsidiary of Kodak Ltd in the UK, who aside from their own products were a wholesaler of other items they didn't make.

I have a 1940 Kodak (Ltd) Professional Catalogue, and it's quite surprising what they sold. Kodak had a number wholesale stores in Australia. Sydney, Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane etc.

Ian
 

koraks

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Gareth has been in touch with me and I can confirm that the negative size is actually 6x9cm by the looks of it. As indicated, I cannot show any proof, but I've seen a photo of a negative held between thumb and fore finger, and it is clearly 60mm width roll film and a negative aspect ratio of 2:3. My take is that they were most likely made with a folder camera. I'll leave it up to you guys to figure out which type was the likely culprit, given a 60mm film width and a ca. 56x85mm film gate :smile:
 
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Gareth l

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Pre-WWII there would have been few US photographic imports to Australia & New Zealand, Harringtons Ltd in Sydney were one of the major importer/distributors, the other was Kodak (Australia) PTY Ltd, a subsidiary of Kodak Ltd in the UK, who aside from their own products were a wholesaler of other items they didn't make.

I have a 1940 Kodak (Ltd) Professional Catalogue, and it's quite surprising what they sold. Kodak had a number wholesale stores in Australia. Sydney, Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane etc.

Ian

Kodak also had one in Tasmania, I can't recall if it was in Launceston or Hobart though. There were certainly photographic suppliers in both.

Thanks for the info that they were a subsidiary of the UK Kodak.

Harringtons are familiar, their supplied the film used to take a 1930 moving sequence we dated in 2020. There were little tiles bearing their name at the end of some of the sequences.
 

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this is an interesting whodunit. Looking forward to see what else the forum can uncover
 

Ian Grant

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Kodak also had one in Tasmania, I can't recall if it was in Launceston or Hobart though. There were certainly photographic suppliers in both.

Thanks for the info that they were a subsidiary of the UK Kodak.

Harringtons are familiar, their supplied the film used to take a 1930 moving sequence we dated in 2020. There were little tiles bearing their name at the end of some of the sequences.

Hobart, there were some smaller Kodak stores as well in Australia, and in New Zealand two in Wellington, as well as in other cities.

Ian
 
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