Photo of Sir Benjamin Stone in London

The camera fiend

Sir Benjamin Stone’s collection was built up over a fifty year period that witnessed a revolution in photographic technology. At the beginning of this period photography was a messy, complex process practised largely by professional operators making pictures for sale. By the end of this era, photography had been transformed into a mass medium: a pastime practised predominantly by amateurs who made pictures for pleasure.

The earliest images in the archive – the cartes de visite, cabinet prints, stereographs and paper prints collected between the late 1860s and early 1880s - were largely made by professional photographers using the wet collodion process invented by Frederick Scott Archer in 1848.

This involved a series of complicated, time consuming chemical manipulations and a portable darkroom. Albumen prints - so called because of the egg white used to coat the paper - were then made by contact-printing the fragile glass negatives. Albumen prints were frequently toned with gold to enrich their colour and increase their permanence.

Stone began making his own photographs around 1888, the same time George Eastman popularized so-called ‘snapshot’ photography with Kodak hand-cameras and lightweight film negatives. Eastman used the slogan ‘You press the button and we do the rest’ in 1888. Stone used a No.2 Kodak, which made circular prints three and a half inches in diameter from a dry roll film negative, during his round the world voyage in 1891.

P.O.P. (Print-Out-Paper, gelatino-chloride paper) was invented by W. Abney in 1882 and put on the market from 1886. It swiftly and widely superseded albumen paper, not least because it printed out in half the time. P.O.P. was also frequently toned with gold. P.O.P. was widely used for printing Kodak negatives.

The introduction by William Willis in 1873 of the platinotype process for printing photographic positives enabled a new generation of serious amateurs (equipped with ready-prepared dry plate glass negatives from the late 1880s) to make images that would ‘last as long as the paper on which they were printed’.

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