Glass Negs

June 26, 2009

09 june glass neg washing blog

A few years ago I started to explore glass plate photography. For those not sure what this means, they are basically the same as regular B&W film however the light sensitive emulsion is coated onto sheets of glass rather than celluloid. Glass negs, also known as glass plates and dry plate predate celluloid emulsions by several decades, being introduced around the 1870s. Although film dominated twentieth century photography for obvious reasons, glass negs were still widely used until the 1940s. After this time it became more of a niche product, used by diehards as well as having applications in science experiments and astrophotography due to the guaranteed flatness of the glass surface.

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The two photos above were made using Agfa Isochrom plates that date from the 1930s. I found several unexposed packs (18 plates total) and after some testing established a working light sensitivity of EI 6. The size of the plates is 6.5 x 9 cm & they were exposed using a Voigtlander Avus 6.5×9 camera that was  manufactured in 1933 for the purpose of shooting glass negs.

09 june glass neg diego blog

The portait of Diego was made with Agfa plates that were designed to be used in electron microscopes & expired in 1985. This shot was made with an EI of 3 & processed in Rodinal 1:100 with some benzotriazole added to reduce the considerable age fog. This exposue worked out well but most I have shot since this one end up with either severe fog or else they are very thin and look as thought the highlights have been scrubbed awy with a scouring pad. I’m trying to find a workflow that gives consistent results, with no success so far. It could be that the plates have aged at different rates even within the same box.

These 3 prints are included in a group show at the Point Light gallery in Sydney from 13 June to 12 July. Saturdays & Sundays 11-5. 4/50 Reservoir St. An article about my work with glass negs was also included in the March 2009 glass plate photography edition of Creative Image Maker magazine, download here.

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