News & Notes

The science of photography

Posted in Special Collections

The world today is awash in images. Everyone has a camera, including anyone that owns a smartphone. Nearly everyone can create a photograph, and almost instantly distribute it via online applications and cell phone apps. It hasn’t always been like this. Before 1839, there were no photographs. Even the word “photograph” did not exist for all but very few people.

In the 1790s, Thomas Wedgewood, child of a long line of pottery manufacturers, worked with Humphry Davies, a chemist, to capture images on paper sensitized with silver salts. They could capture the images; however, they could not keep them as they never discovered a means of fixing the image by desensitizing the photo-reactive metallic salts on the paper. Because of this, images would be ruined if viewed in any but the dimmest of lights.

20160921_Sun Gardens 03Fortunately, Sir John Herschel found an answer. Herschel was a man of great talent and many interests. He worked in mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, botany and for a time, he was an experimental photographer. He discovered that hyposulphite of soda (now known as sodium thiosulfate but still nicknamed “hypo”) dissolved silver halides, the metallic salts that remain after light converts some of the salts back into metallic silver. Once dissolved, the metallic salts may be washed out of the paper leaving a more or less permanent image.

But Herschel, having become interested in fixing images through the action of light on metallic salts, did not stop there. He continued to experiment with various vegetable extracts and mineral salts. The cyanotype became the most successful process, using iron and cyanide salts. When exposed to ultraviolet light, the iron is reduced to an insoluble, blue dye (ferric ferrocyanide) known as Prussian Blue. The unexposed salts can be washed out of the paper leaving a permanent, positive, blue-scale image.

Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London published Herschel’s “On the Action of the Rays of the Solar Spectrum on Vegetable Colours, and on some new Photographic Processes” in 1842. In this work, Herschel described how to create cyanotypes.

Title page for Anna Atkins' "British Algae"

Title page for Anna Atkins’ “British Algae”

Less than a year later, Anna Atkins began self-publishing “Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions.” Atkins was the daughter of John George Children, a scientist and a Fellow and Secretary of The Royal Society. Her work is extraordinary for three reasons. Anna Atkins became the first woman photographer in the world. Second, her book was the first entirely produced through photography. Third, this was the first scientific work illustrated by directly duplicating the algae being described.

Each three-volume work contained at least 400 prints and she produced at least a dozen copies. Atkins issued the work as a part-book, that is, a set number of pages would be printed and sent to subscribers. It was up to the subscriber to collate and bind the resulting pages. Producing this volume of prints consumed nearly ten years of her life.

LSU Libraries does hold a work about British Algae. This publication, Sun Gardens – Victorian Photographs by Anna Atkins, (1985, Larry Schaaf), includes a great deal of information about Atkins herself and her work, along with other photographic works she created after completing British Algae.

Mark Martin is the photographic processing archivist at LSU Libraries and author of Andrew D. Lytle’s Baton Rouge: Photographs, 1863-1910 (LSU Press, 2008).

 

Posted in Special Collections

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

Events

Recent Faculty Publications

2019

Batte, Elizabeth; David Dunaway; Emily Frank; Sarah Mazur; and Laurie Phillips. “LOUIS Membership with Open Textbook Network Brings Incentive for Faculty OER Advocacy on Campuses,” CODEX: Journal of the Louisiana Chapter of the ACRL. Volume 5, Issue 3 (Fall/Winter 2019).

Comeaux, Dave;  Emily Frank; and Mike Waugh. “Supporting Student Success: E-books as Course Materials,” CODEX: Journal of the Louisiana Chapter of the ACRL. Volume 5, Issue 2 (Fall/Winter 2019).

Dunaway, David. “Bibliometrics for Faculty Evaluation: A Stastical Comparison of h-indexes Generated Using Google Scholar and Web of Science Data,” CODEX: Journal of the Louisiana Chapter of the ACRL. Volume 5, Issue 3 (Fall/Winter 2019).

Haber, Natalie, Melissa Cornwell, & Andrea Hebert. “This worksheet works: Making the DLS Standards work for you,” College & Research Libraries News. 

Hawk, Amanda K. “Implementing Standardized Statistical Measures and Metrics for Public Services in Archival Repositories and Special Collections Libraries,” Proceedings of the 2018 Library Assessment Conference, (Association of Research Libraries, 2019): 836-843. https://doi.org/10.29242/lac.2018.78

Hebert, Andrea and Jodi Duet. “’I’m Really Confident I Can Find the Exact IKEA Pillow’: A Qualitative Look at the Search Self-Efficacy of Graduating MLIS Students,” Behavioral & Social Sciences Librarian. https://doi.org/10.1080/01639269.2017.1690891.

Lounsberry, Megan. “No Textbooks Allowed! (Unless You’re a Graduate Student!): Louisiana State University Pilots an ILL Textbook Service. Journal of Interlibrary Loan, Document Delivery & Electronic Reserve, 28 (3/4): 61–73. https://doi.org/10.1080/1072303X.2019.1676862

Miles, John David. “Colfax, Kate Grant, and the Domestication of Reconstruction’s Violence,” Civil War Book Review. Volume 21, Issue 2 (Spring 2019).

Miles, John David. “The Loyalty of West Point’s Graduates Debated,” Civil War Book Review. Volume 21, Issue 1 (Winter 2019).

Miller, Marty. “Curriculum, Departmental, and Faculty Mapping in the Visual Arts Department,” Art Documentation, Volume 38, Issue 1 (March 2019): 159-173.

Morgan, Randa L. “Libraries and Gardens: Growing Together.” Catholic Library World, Volume 90, Issue 1 (September 2019): 68.

O’Neill, Brittany; and  Allen LeBlanc. “Evaluating Trends in Instruction Scheduling Management: A Survey of Louisiana’s Academic Libraries,” CODEX: Journal of the Louisiana Chapter of the ACRL. Volume 5, Issue 2 (Fall/Winter 2019).

Russo, Michael, “The Moon Belongs to Everyone:  ResearchGate and Subscription Databases Compared.”  Louisiana Libraries. Volume 81, Issue 3, (Winter 2019).

Russo, Michael, “Information Literacy through Service Learning” in Library Collaborations and Community Partnerships: Enhancing Health and Quality of Life.  Fannie M. Cox, Henry R. Cunningham, and Vickie Hines-Martin, eds., 2019.

Simms, Sarah; Hayley Johnson. “Hidden in Plain Sight,” 64 Parishes (Magazine of the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities). Issue 4 (Summer 2019). https://64parishes.org/hidden-in-plain-sight.

Simms, S., & Johnson, H. Subtle activism: Using the library exhibit as a social justice tool, Alexandria, Volume 29, Issue 1-2 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1177/0955749019876119.

Ziegler, Scott; and Cara Key. “More Than a Pretty Interface: The Louisiana Digital Library as a Data Hub,” CODEX: Journal of the Louisiana Chapter of the ACRL. Volume 5, Issue 2 (Fall/Winter 2019).

Ziegler, S.L. “Digitization Selection Criteria as Anti-Racist Action,” Code4Lib Journal. Issue 45 (2019). https://journal.code4lib.org/articles/14667

Ziegler, S.L. and Steve Martin. “A Hidden Gem Becomes a Fertile Mining Ground: Historic Prison Admission Books and Data-Driven Digital Projects,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography Volume 143, Issue 3 (October 2019): 363-373.

2018

Hebert, Andrea. “Information Literacy Skills of First-Year Library and Information Science Graduate Students: An Exploratory Study,” Evidence Based Library and Information Practice Volume 13, Issue 3 (September 2018).

Miller, Marty. “Sacred vs. Profane in The Great War: A Neutral’s Indictment: Louis Raemaekers’s Use of Religious Imagery in Adoration of the Magi and Our Lady of Antwerp.” Catholic Library World, vol. 89, no. 1, Sept. 2018, pp. 20–32.

Rasmussen, Hans. “The Life and Death of Raquette in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans,” Sport History Review 49 (May 2018): 23-38.

Wilder, Stanley. “Delayed Retirements and the Youth Movement among ARL Library Professionals,” Research Library Issues, no. 295 (2018).

Wilder, Stanley. “Hiring and Staffing Trends in ARL Libraries,” Research Library Issues, no. 295 (2018).

Wilder, Stanley. “Selected Demographic Trends in the ARL Professional Population,” Research Library Issues, no. 295 (2018).

Ziegler, Scott; and Richard Shrake. “PAL: Toward a Recommendation System for Manuscripts,” Information Technology and Libraries, Vol. 37, No. 3 (2018).

2017

Caminita, C.; Cook, M.; and Paster, A. (2017). Thirty years of preserving, discovering, and accessing U.S. agricultural information: Past progress and current challenges. Library Trends, 65(3), 293-315.

Dauterive, Sarah; John Bourgeois; and Sarah Simms. “How little is too little? An examination of information literacy instruction duration for freshmen.” Journal of Information Literacy, 11.1 (2017): 204-219.

Fontenot, Mitch; Emily Frank; and Andrea Hebert. “Going Where the Users Are: Three Variations on a Theme,” Louisiana Libraries, Fall 2017.

Hawk, Amanda K. “Highflying Crowdfunding: Creating a Successful Partnership with a Campus Donor,” Archival Outlook, July/August 2017: 12-13, 19. https://www.bluetoad.com/publication/?i=422988.

Hebert, Andrea; and Marty Miller. (2017). Using FSA-OWI photographs to teach information and visual literacy. Louisiana Libraries, 79(3), 19–25.

Johnson, Hayley. “#NoDAPL: Social Media, Empowerment, and Civic Participation at Standing Rock,” Library Trends, Fall 2017.

More…

Special Collections Hours

Contact Special Collections

Public Services Desk: (225) 578-6544

Reference Desk: (225) 578-6568

Fax: (225) 578-9425

Email: special@lsu.edu

Submit a reference question

RSS Feed RSS - Special Collections Posts