Research for 1915-1920 Portrait Studio Film Processing & 120mm film

Discussion in 'Film and Processing' started by AuraAntiques, Jun 6, 2018.

  1. Hello,
    I am doing research for 1915-1920 Portrait Studio Film Processing (& 120mm film for personal use at that time)

    Would anyone know and/or be able to direct me to a reference to learn

    1. what equipment (studio camera?) and what film or plates a portrait studio would have used at that time
    2. how their film/plates were developed (in studio? chemicals? light?)
    3. how 120mm film was developed in that time period for personal use - using a kodak 3 special

    Any info for that time period would be helpful.

    Thank you!
  2. Kodak found it necessary to identify roll film as to size with the introduction of the No. 2 Kodak in 1889. As different models were marketed, the roll film box was identified by the name of the Kodak camera it fit.

    By 1908, due to the number of different models, matching roll film to camera was becoming difficult. Kodak then began to number the various roll film sizes beginning with 101 for the No. 2 Bullet Camera of 1895.

    From that point, as different size cameras came to market, Kodak labeled them 101 thru 129.

    The film labeled 120 is actually 61mm wide. Later 620 film was intruded. This is actually the same film size only the flanges of the film spool were less robust.

    The key point is, 120 and 620 are not millimeters this film is 61mm or 2.4 inches wide roll film is size 120 and 620. .
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  3. Most amateurs would have taken their film to the local chemist (pharmacy) for processing. In turn the chemist would have developed and printed the film themselves, or more likely, sent the film on to a large processing house - Kodak or Ilford for example.

    Established portrait studios of the period would almost certainly still be using large format plates in 5"x4", 5"x 7", half, whole-plate or 10"x8" size. Hand retouching was still the norm in those days, and a sizeable plate made the job of retouching easier.

    The studio would almost certainly do its own processing and printing in house. Making up developers and other processing solutions from raw chemicals was a fairly common practise, and the use of individual 'secret formulae' was also likely.

    As for materials used: Kodak, Ilford, Agfa and Ferrania probably dominated the amateur market. The proportion of market share dependent on locality. There were many other smaller suppliers of plates and materials at that time, with emulsions that have long been obsolete, which is where your own research needs to take place.

    Old books and periodicals (gasp!) of the era are going to be your best resource. You could do worse than seek out copies of the "British Journal of Photography Almanac" from that time.

    The internet doesn't have the depth of detail or digitisation of resources needed for good research.
    AuraAntiques likes this.
  4. In that era, professional photographers, especially studios doing portraiture, likely did not use roll film. Pictures were priced by size, the larger the print, the higher the financial reward. The apparatus and materials to make enlargements were scant, so photographers chose large format cameras for the studio. These were loaded with glass plates coated with a light-sensitive emulsion. These glass plates were 8 x10 inches, 5 x 7 inches, and 4 x 5 inches. Prints were made by placing the negatives in a glass frame in contact with the photo paper. This sandwich was then exposed to light. The resulting prints were the same size as the negatives -- thus the term “contact prints”.

    The glass plates were being phased out, replaced by stiff sheets of film “sheet film”. A dark room was always associated with the photo studio. It was a light-proof room, illuminated by red light. There was a bench and sink. Films, plates, and papers were developed in a shallow tray. Three such trays were laid out on the bench. A solution of “developer”, a solution of “stop bath”, a solution of “fixer” plus a tray in the sink used to wash away residual chemicals. The trays were often replaced by rectangular tanks. In other words, vats large enough to contain liquid allowing the film, plates or paper to be completely submerged.

    The darkroom featured shelves and cabinets containing bottles of liquid chemicals, boxes of dry chemical ingredients, and scales to measure out the various ingredients. There would be storage areas for boxes of films, plates, and photo paper. The room was odiferous, vinegar- like smell. A few darkrooms had electricity and thus a lightbulb. Most would have kerosene lamps. Darkrooms without electricity forced the worker to place the negatives in frames, in contact with photo paper, and then walk outside into the sunlight to expose the print paper. Most studios featured skylights and windows, that furnished light allowing indoor portraiture and contact printing.

    About the No. 3 Kodak Autographic -- See attached for a download of the camera’s manual.

    Kodak No. 3 Autographic camera manual, free PDF manual, Kodak folding cameras
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  5. Thank you SO MUCH for your help, Joe and Alan!!!! You two are AMAZING! I can't thank you enough for your help. I'm writing a novel and couldn't find much like the details you two supplied to me--and I want to be historically accurate!

    THANK YOU!!! I may just have to put you two in my acknowledgements when it's published. ; )
  6. Questions like this come up often enough, but usually from someone who has an old camera, and wants to know what to do with it.

    Also, the mistake of thinking of 120 size film as 120mm come up way too often.

    I do enjoy novels that are realistic, which often means historically accurate.

    One not mentioned yet, is that orthochromatic (non red sensitive) films were still pretty popular at that time.

    Panchromatic films had been invented, and were used, but were more expensive, and couldn't be developed under a red safelight.

    I don't know when studio photographers would have made the change. if that might make a difference in the story, ask more.
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  7. If the story is in the US there is a little historical information written by Rudolf Kingslake in "A History of the Rochester, NY Camera and Lens Companies." It includes a bit about the Century cameras, which were in your general time frame.
    A History of the Rochester, NY Camera and Lens Companies

    A couple other interesting links related to cameras are:

    Century Camera Company Product Listing at Historic Camera - History Librarium and

    Graflex — The Folmer- Century Division of Eastman Kodak...
  8. James G. Dainis

    James G. Dainis Moderator

    Enlargers were not in common use at that time. Most prints were made by contact printing a negative onto photo paper. If you wanted an 8x10 inch photo, the photographer would use a camera holding an 8x10 negative/plate, for an 11x14 inch photo he would use a camera holding an 11x 14 inch negative/plate, etc. Today silver gel emulsion is the norm. Back then you had your choice of silver or platinum prints. Platinum cost a little more but rendered finer tonal qualities.

    Amateurs would also buy the camera that produced the size of contact print photo that they wanted. A No.1 Kodak Autographic made 2-1/2 x 4-1/2 inch exposures on No. A116 film for 2-1/2 x 4-1/2 inch photos. A No. 3A Kodak Autographic made 3-1/4 x 5-1/2 inch (postcard size) on A122 film.

    I read an old mystery novel written in the 1930s. To destroy evidence the detective took the glass plate out of a camera and crushed it under his heel. I found it interesting that even into the 1930s some people were still using glass plates in their small cameras rather than roll film.
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  9. James G. Dainis

    James G. Dainis Moderator

    The No. 3 Kodak special camera, produce from 1911 to 1914 produced 3-1/4 x 4-1/4 inch exposures for 3-1/4 x 4-1/4 inch contact print photos. It was discontinued in 1914 when the Autographic feature was introduced - a flip door on the back of the camera that could be opened and a stylus used to write comments on the film.
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2018
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  10. When I was about 10, I got an Autographic 1A jr. from my grandfather, and at the time could still buy VP116 in stores. I remember figuring out the autographic feature, and knowing that the film I had wouldn't do it. (Though I suppose one could write on the backing paper with an ordinary pen.)

    Not so much later, I inherited most of my grandfather's photographic equipment.

    In 1975, I found a roll of VP116 in the outdated half-price bin at a nearby store.

    Autographic film comes up once in a while on eBay, though I suspect that the film isn't
    in usable condition by now. VP116 from the 1960's usually works, though.

    It looks like the No. 3 uses A118, or now VP118 film.
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  11. :)I'm back! Thank you all for your help.
    Would anyone that knows the Century Grand or studio cameras from around/ before 1915 really well be willing to read a few paragraphs I wrote for accuracy?
    I'd really appreciate any corrections. The paragraphs will include descriptions of parts of a large format camera and focusing in a studio environment. It's not an entire chapter, just a few paragraphs.

    Let me know, and thank you in advance!

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