Monthly Archives: August 2015

Caught in the Light: a Steampunk Feminist Perspective of the Science of Photography

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Early daguerreotype of Robert Cornelius, an American metallurgist and pioneer of photography, around October 1839. This is considered the first ‘selfie’.

If ever a technology should be considered as a 19th century innovation, it is photography. At the very start of the 19th century, around the year 1800, Thomas Wedgwood made the first known attempt to capture the image in a camera obscura by means of a light-sensitive substance. He used paper or white leather treated with silver nitrate. The camera obscura had been around for centuries, used by artists to help them capture the image they wanted to paint. Others had experimented with trying to capture the images of the camera obscura – even back in Medival times – but Wedgwood was the first to really experiment with light-sensitive substances.

Thomas Wedgwood – potter and the ‘father’ of photography. Sadly, he died at 34. Just think of what further innovations he might have discovered if not taken so early.

There are several different types of photography technology that was developed throughout the 19th century:-

Photograms: This is camera-less photography, developing images of items placed on light-sensitive paper and then exposing it to light. Anna Atkins used this technique to produce a book titled British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions. It was printed in instalments from 1843; it was the first book to be illustrated with photographs. (Anna’s father, John Children, gave Anna an unusually science-focused education for a girl of her era, as her mother died at her birth, and Children was a chemist, mineralogist and zoologist.) In modern times, this technique is mainly used by artists to achieve unusual effects. Personally, I find the fact delightful that the very first book of scientific photographs was produced by a woman.

One of Anna Atkins’ photograms of algae.

Anna Atkins

Daguerreotypes:  Frenchman Louis-Jaques-Mandé Daguerre invented the daguerreotype in 1839. To make a daguerreotype was time consuming. First, a sheet of silver-plated copper had to be polished to a mirror finish. Then it was treated with iodine fumes – later halogen fumes – that coated its surface in light-sensitive silver iodide or silver halide. At this point, the plate was exposed in a camera, which could be as little as a few seconds for brightly sunlit subjects or up to five minutes with less intense lighting, or even longer in dim lighting conditions. The resulting latent image was made visible by fuming it with mercury vapour; this was a very dangerous stage of the procedure, but few photographers took precautions to protect themselves from the fumes. Daguerre’s method to arrest the light sensitivity of the plate was to wash away the remaining silver iodide with a hot, saturated solution of common salt; a later development saw the light sensitivity of the plate arrested with a mild solution of sodium thiosulfate. The plate was then rinsed and dried. However, the image surface was still very easily marred and the silver was subject to tarnishing from exposure to the air. To protect the image, the finished plate was bound up within a box-like  glass frame, and the box sealed with strips of paper soaked in gum arabic. In the US and UK, a gilt brass mat was normally used to separate the delicate image surface from the glass.

Daguerreotype of Louis Daguerre in 1844 by Jean-Baptiste Sabatier-Blot. Image from Wikipedia.

Daguerreotype technology continued to be improved after its discovery. As previously mentioned, the use of halogens was introduced to the fuming procedure, with the result of decreasing the exposure times. In 1841, the Petzval Portrait Lens was introduced; scientifically designed for the purpose of reducing exposure times. Gilding could be an addition to Daguerre’s process;  Hippolyte Fizeau introduced to the technique in 1840. It gave a grey tones of the images some added warmth and colour. In the Becquerel variation of the process, published in 1840, the plate was sensitized by fuming with iodine alone, and the image was developed by overall exposure to sunlight passing through yellow or red glass. Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel came across this process while experimenting with photochemical effects, and it was just a lucky accident of his research.

Daguerreotype camera built by La Maison Susse Frères in 1839, with a lens by Charles Chevalier

Daguerreotypes are normally laterally reversed – creating mirror images of the subject – because they are necessarily viewed from the side that originally faced the camera lens. As other photographic technologies were developed, the daguerreotype process became less popular, and its use died out in the early 1860s. Which I think is a shame, because daguerreotypes have a certain charm that other forms of photography can’t imitate, as the images glow with an inner light. But some people disliked the daguerreotypes for that same reason, and the fact that they were difficult to see in some lighting conditions because of that shine. And the process was complicated, expensive, and you could only obtain one image as there were no negatives to make multiple copies. The images were delicate and easily ruined. It was a technology with limited availability to society, and so doomed.

Calotype: The calotype and salted paper process (or talbotype as it was also known) was an early photographic process introduced in 1841, by the British scientist and inventor, William Henry Fox Talbot. This photographic process – even though it was easier and cheaper than producing daguerreotypes – didn’t catch as much as much as daguerreotypes because Talbot had taken out patents, while Daguerre had not (he was paid a stipend by the French government not to). Calotypes were grainier and less detailed. When the wet plate collidon process came along, calotype photography rapidly took a back seat.

William Henry Fox Talbot, by John Moffat, 1864.

A calotype print on salted paper.

Ambrotypes: The ambrotype was based on the wet plate collodion process invented by Frederick Scott Archer. Ambrotypes were introduced in the 1850s and by the end of that decade it had almost entirely replaced the daguerreotype. Ambrotypes were much less expensive to produce than daguerreotypes, as they were developed on a glass plate and not a silver-coated copper plate, and they didn’t use as much silver and no gold in the process. However, they were also much duller to view.

Frederick Scott Archer.jpg

Frederick Scott Archer

Archer was a British sculptor, and found calotype photography was useful way of capturing images of his sculptures. However, he found the poor definition very limiting. Archer invented his wet plate collidon process in 1848 and published it in The Chemist in March 1851, enabling photographers to combine fine detail with the ability to print multiple paper copies. In publishing his discovery, he did so knowingly without first patenting it, giving it as a gift to the world. Alas, this meant he died poor, but his supporters raised money for his family by public subscription and the British government did see their way clear to grant small pensions to his children when the death of their mother left them orphaned.

Ambrotype from the 1850s.

The “collodion wet plate process” required the photographic material to be coated, sensitized, exposed and developed within the span of about fifteen minutes, so that any photographer taking images away from his or her studio needed a portable darkroom. But it was also fast for the time, requiring only seconds for exposure, and that was a major advantage over its rival photographic processes.

A portable darkroom

Tintype: A tintype is a photograph made by creating an image on a coating of dark lacquer or enamel on a thin sheet of metal, with this prepared plate used as the support for the photographic emulsion.The process was first described by the French inventor Adolphe-Alexandre Martin; on April 18, 1853, Doctor Martin shared his exciting new process in a paper he delivered to the Academie des Sciences. In 1856, it was patented by Hamilton Smith in the United States and by William Kloen in the United Kingdom. I’m not sure how legal this was … it sounds rather cheeky to me.

There are two historic tintype processes, using wet or dry emulsion, and in both processes, a very underexposed negative image was produced in the emulsion. In order to obtain an image, potassium cyanide was normally employed as the photographic fixer. Potassium cyanide is a very dangerous and powerful deadly poison; it was the most toxic of all the chemicals used in other early photographic processes. As I’ve noted in previous blogs, the Victorian seemed to be completely oblivious to the amount of toxins and poison they introduced into their working and home environments.

Tintype of two girls dressed as young men.

The main advantages of the tintype were threefold: the process created an unbreakable, durable, photographic image supported on a metal plate, which could be carried about and handled without breaking like the delicate daguerreotype. Secondly, it was  ready for the sitter in a just few minutes. Finally, as it was relatively inexpensive, its lowered cost of production meant the working class could own photographs.

The tintype remained popular at seaside resorts and county fairs well into the 20th century, losing ground only after the  owning a personal camera and photographic film became available to the working class.

Film Photography: The first flexible photographic roll film was marketed by American George Eastman in 1885, but this original “film” was actually a coating on a paper base. Eastman went on to found the Kodak company (Eastman famously thought the letter ‘K’ was ‘a strong, incisive sort of letter’. In 1889,  first transparent plastic roll film was made from highly flammable celluloid. It was the development of rolled celluloid film that made the invention of movies possible.

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George Eastman

The Kodak Brownie camera popularized low-cost photography and popularized the concept of owning your own camera in Western society. The first Brownie was introduced in February, 1900.

Colour Photography:

Self-portrait of Sarah Angelina Acland.jpg

A self portrait of English photographer, Sarah Angelina Acland

 At this point, I would like introduce the English photographer, Sarah Angelina Acland – who, contrary to what might be written in Wikipedia, was no amateur. She was a pioneer of colour photography, taking and developing her own photographs. The concept of colour photography had been explored since the 1840s. Early experiments in colour photography required extremely long exposures and and a very complicated developing process with specialist knowledge. Acland’s ‘amateur’ status has to be questioned as a collection of Acland’s photographs is housed at the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford, and the Bodleian Library in Oxford has catalogues of her photograph albums and papers. Acland died before colour film became commercially available for personal cameras, but she was still taking pictures until she died.

Funchal Bay, Madeira, by Sarah Angelina Acland, taken in 1910.

Colour photography didn’t really take off until the availability of colour film from the 1930s, using a three colour emulsion process. It was still expensive, but now the development was done by the lab and not the photographer.

Bear with me, I know this has been a longer-than-average article, and that is after I removed a lot of the details of the science of photography. As you can see, the invention of photography benefited both the Arts and the Sciences, which makes it a very Steampunk invention in my own opinion. It was a technology that was embraced by women, Acland being only one of many Victorian female photographers and enthusiasts.

File:Girl in Traditional Costume, Taken in Madeira, by Sarah Angelina Acland, c.1910.jpg

Girl in Traditional Costume, Taken in Madeira, by Sarah Angelina Acland, circa 1910

One can’t help but wonder what Robert Cornelius would have made of all this. He died in 1893, so he would have been around to see all these innovations.

Cornelius would operate two of the earliest photographic studios in the United States between 1841 and 1843, but as the popularity of photography grew and more photographers opened studios, Cornelius either lost interest or realized that he could make more money at the family gas and lighting company. – from Wikipedia

I can’t see him losing interest. Instead, I see him still taking photos in his eighties, of his grandchildren, of his rapidly changing world. And still snapping a self portrait or two…

Brownie camera steampunk assemblage mixed media altered art clock parts. $150.00, via Etsy.: Brownie camera steampunk assemblage mixed media altered art clock parts. $150.00, via Etsy.

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The 700th Post

The Dirigible Cake from betweenthepagesblog.typepad.com website

The Dirigible Cake

Wow. I can’t believe I have written seven hundred posts for this blog. I was slow to start with this blog, because it started off as a way to stop me writing lengthy notes on Facebook. It slowly developed into an outlet for sharing my journey with writing. I’ve learnt stuff. Superb, really cool stuff  (to use a term from my teens). It seemed wasteful and small-minded to keep it to myself.

Then my goals twisted again. I decided to use the blog not only as a way of sharing with the writing and Steampunk communities, but to help build my connection to them. This has worked out better than I had ever hoped. And I hope you all have enjoyed the journey so far. I often use this blog as my warm-up exercise before I start writing.

Thank you for taking this journey with me. Twenty thousand times in the past year, you’ve checked out this site, and some of you have liked it and commented. I look forward to seeing how things work out in the future.

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The Paradox of Black and White

English is not the easiest language to learn, because it isn’t very logical. I can remember how frustrated my youngest child was with her first grade spelling, trying to understand how ‘going’ and ‘doing’ were spelt as if they rhymed, when they did nothing of the sort. But it isn’t just our spelling and pronunciation that can be a bugbear; our idioms can also be a conundrum for both writers and speakers.

Look at how the words ‘black’ and ‘white’ can have a multitude of meaning. We can’t just assume black symbolises bad, and that white stands for good.

Black had traditionally been seen as unlucky, sinister, or downright evil. There is a large number of sayings, similes, and idioms that use black in this sense: to be listed in someone’s black books, the black sheep of the family, black hats (particularly in Westerns), to blackball a candidate, to be black-hearted, to be in a black mood, to give a black look, to be blacklisted, to have a black mark against your name, the black arts, unlucky to have a black cat cross your path, black magic (as opposed to white magic), to blacken someone’s name, blackmail…  I’ll stop now, because I am sure you have the idea. And yet, to be in the black has the positive connotation of having money in the bank and not being in debt.

White is generally use to represent innocence and purity: as pure/white as the driven snow, white as a lily, white as a swan (Australian swans are black), fair skin is aristocratic, as mild as milk, brides wearing white to their weddings, little white lies, wearing white to your baptism, the white glove test for cleanliness, and so on and so forth. However, white seems to have more negative connotations than black has positive ones. White lips are a sign of pain or sadness – such as pale with suffering, or of anger – think of a white-hot fury. White skin can be pasty. If you are frightened, you are lily-livered and may need to be handed a white feather to shame you for your cowardice. You surrender by waving a white flag.

shadow cat

So, as you can see, the use of black or white in a metaphor isn’t black and white, and has something of a chequered history. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) If you are using black or white in your prose, you have to make sure that your audience knows exactly what your trying to say by using them. For example: “Her horse was as black and as gentle as the night, and as beautiful as the stars therein.”   From the deliberate use of the word ‘gentle’ you can surmise this steed isn’t a black charger snorting brimstone. But if ‘gentle’ had been left out, you might be uncertain of the nature of the black horse. A milk-white horse might not need the word ‘gentle’, because – as previously noted – as milk is generally associated with mildness. So if you have a wicked white steed, you need to make that clear from the start.

So, as you can see, English can be confusing for those who have grown up speaking it. I can’t imagine what it must be like for people trying to learn it as a second language.

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Filed under Analogy, Language, Love of words, Metaphors, Writing Style

Holidays Notification

From Wednesday next week, I will be spending five days working as a volunteer at the Brisbane Writers Festival. After that, I am going away for five days to an internet-free zone. So, for ten days, there will be no updates on the blog. Normal service will resume when I get back.

Thank you in advance for your support, and thank you for the support you’ve all previously shown this little blog, and my Steampunk Sunday page on Facebook, and my twitter account in my pen name of Lynne Lumsden Green. You are a brilliant group with obvious good taste.

Cogpunk Steamscribe

Cogpunk Steamscribe

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My Fascination with Robotics

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Last weekend, I went to a robotics festival held at a local university campus.  The advertisement had me at ‘robot petting zoo’. I was mildly disappointed to find out the robots in the petting zoo were basically wooden ‘bugs’ rolling around a grassy square. However, the exact sort of robots I wanted to see were on view. See the little ‘lamp’ above? It had movement sensors and facial recognition software, so that it interacted with viewers in the audience. It was a real life Luxo Junior, and I want one.

The goldfish with its robotic cart.

The goldfish with its robotic cart.

My other favourite robot – as a zoologist – was mechanical wheelchair/cart for an aquarium, that responds to the movement of the goldfish in the tank. A fish that was mobile!  As a writer, I could see this technology being adapted to aquatic aliens, or even dolphins. Imagine a world where you best buddy, a dolphin, could take a stroll with you.

Racing robots

Racing robots

Handing out brochures

Handing out brochures

Playing 'Connect Four' with a young robotics fan.

Playing ‘Connect Four’ with a young robotics fan.

Watching medical robots pipette fluids.

Watching medical robots pipette fluids.

Tiny robotic drone

Tiny robotic drone, and a hovering camera – I’ve seen the cameras used by real estate agents to take high angle images.

I have been a fan of robots and robotics since childhood. This interest in robots was probably inspired by Isaac Asimov. In my current Steampunk narrative, I have a automation, the precursor to the robot.

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On Your Bike: a Steampunk Feminist Perspective of Mounting and Riding a Penny-Farthing Bicycle.

Bob Spiers on a penny-farthing bicycle being chased by his sister Maggie - West Wyalong, NSW, Circa 1900. This is one of my favourite images, because it shows two loving siblings larking around.

Bob Spiers on a penny-farthing bicycle being chased by his sister Maggie – West Wyalong, NSW, Circa 1900. This is one of my favourite images, because it shows two loving siblings larking around.

The velocipede that we now call a penny-farthing, was originally known as a Safety Bicycle in Australia (and probably the rest of the world). The recent invention of spokes allowed for the development of larger ‘spider’ wheels. The large front wheel allowed for higher gearing, and the bigger wheel was more comfortable over bumps and potholes. However, cycling enthusiasts were both excited and appalled by this newest innovation in velocipedes, because they looked so ‘flimsy’ and yet had intriguing new gadgets.

In the Austral Wheel Race of 1890, Mr Gordon of Gippsland rode the “tallest machine in the world”. It was sixty-five inches high, while Mr Gordon himself was six feet four inches. – excerpt from Keith Dunstan’s The Confessions of a Bicycle Nut

Of course, the length of one’s legs restricted the size of one’s front wheel. As women are generally shorter than men, it meant the penny-farthing was much more popular with men than women. It was a difficult vehicle to mount and dismount. To keep your balance, the bicycle had to be moving, and you had to hoist yourself up to the seat and find the madly twirling pedals before you fell over. I imagine this took some practice, and involved quite a few scrapes and bruises until the enthusiast learnt the knack. Falling off would have been like falling off a tall horse.

The spoon brake on a penny-farthing bicycle

As well, the braking system was rather primitive; the spoon brake. The big wheel meant these velocipedes were devilishly fast, the rider’s weight was over the front axle, and so hitting the brake too hard would somersault the rider and his bicycle with disastrous results (gravity works). The rider would be projected head first into the ground with some force. It paid to learn how to fall sideways; still painful, but it saved your helmetless head. Fatal accidents were common in Australia.

Vintage Photos of Circus Performers from 1890s-1910s (17)

Safety is not an issue when you have the balance of a circus performer.

As a writer of Steampunk narratives, I think it is important to understand the differences between riding a modern bike compared to the Victorian boneshakers and solid-wheeled velocipede. Before the modern bike could appear, there had to be Dunlop’s invention of the rubber, air-filled wheel; experiments with wheel sizes in relation to gears; the invention of safer braking systems, and a multitude of other innovations. The experience of bike riding changed along with the bikes. What I really want is a long discussion with someone who rides an antique penny-farthing.

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Filed under Historical Personage, History, Research, Science, Steampunk Genre, Verisimilitude, Victorian Era, Victorian-era Fashion

Edna Mode says “No capes!”

Very good article on the realities of airships.

Ged Maybury :: Steamed Up

I write Steampunk, but I seldom write *about* Steampunk. Why not? Well for one thing, I’m not an expert. Not that I should worry. The internet is chock-full of unexpert opinion, unexpert advice and unexpert analysis. I merely have to put my finger tips to my keyboard and join them. Here we go!

AIRSHIPS are a staple of the steampunk world, along with Corsets, Mad Scientists, Ray-guns, Villains, Lantern-jawed Heroes, Various Monsters, Adventuresome Women, and the Frequent Removal of Clothing. (All of which I cheerfully tossed into my first novel, and the next, and the next …)

But back to airships. Writers love them. Illustrators love them. They are the penultimate Rule-of-Cool machine. Once you give your characters an airship they can roam the world, conduct warfare, hunt the elusive sky-kraken/sky-whale/sky-kitten or whatever your imagination requires. Your characters can do science, fend off sky pirates, get laid in luxury. you can put entire…

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