Life on Lake Michigan at the Turn of the Twentieth Century – glass plate negatives made into large format prints

I became obsessed with UW-Parkside Archive’s collection of dry plate negatives last year when director Anna Stadick shared them with me. I determined to scan, print and research a group of the negatives for a little show at the Parkside gallery.  We have just installed  an exhibition of  large format digital photographs pulled from high quality scans of the original negatives that date to 188os to early 1900s. These photos primarily show beautiful boats on the Lake Michigan, but there are a few other subjects as well. Enjoy this slide show and vista Parkside’s E. H. Mathis Gallery located in the theatre lobby if you can.

By researching the names of the vessels mentioned in the index to the slidesI found that many of the ships shown were well-known racing yachts at the time. I had no idea that yacht racing was a popular spectator sport at the turn of the century, and that the Lake Michigan Yachting Association hosted a regatta in 1901 that sailed between Chicago and Kenosha. The images are marvelous.

What is a Dry Plate negative?

The Dry Plate process was first invented in 1871. It replaced a messy and time-sensitive process that required the application of wet chemicals (wet collodion) to a glass plate minutes before a photograph was taken. This means that before the Dry Plate process, a photographer could not take a photograph without having a “dark room” to create a light sensitive “Wet Plate” for use in his or her camera. The Dry Plate process made photography much easier because the light-sensitive silver gelatin emulsion was applied and allowed to dry on the plate before it was used by a photographer.  A photographer could simply carry dry plates and load them into a camera to take a photograph. By the 1880s factory-made silver gelatin dry plates were widely available, and this brought photography to a wide audience of amateur practitioners.  Glass plate photography began to decline when flexible roll film was invented and it virtually disappeared by the mid-1920s, replaced by George Eastman Kodak cameras that used only flexible roll film. (from the galley website)

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About Patricia Briggs
Patricia Briggs is the director of galleries and curator of exhibitions at Jamestown Community College in Western New York. She writes the blog "Scene Unseen: Viewing Notes" about visual art in her community.

7 Responses to Life on Lake Michigan at the Turn of the Twentieth Century – glass plate negatives made into large format prints

  1. happyswimmer says:

    Wonderful! I want the cycling pic too.

  2. Peg Fisher says:

    What a wonderful exhibit! Black and white photography is my favorite and this exhibit demonstrates its subtle beauty and power. Thank you Patricia and Anna!

  3. Pingback: Life on Lake Michigan at the Turn of the Twentieth Century – glass plate negatives made into large format prints |

  4. Just beautiful! My hometown. I wish I could see these. What sizes are they? Bravo, Patricia!

    • This is such a compliment coming from you Mary! Did you know that Terry and I are moving to Fredonia NY. I’t pretty exciting. I hope to get back into my blog in the transition.

      • I did hear that Patricia! Congrats!! Very exciting!! Good luck with the move and keep me posted on all fronts! Hi to Terry and JoJo, Mary

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