The “Blue Print” and Its Variations

The "Blue Print"Finding historical texts on photographic printing processes can be daunting. The Internet has certainly helped in making out-of-copyright tomes more readily available to the alternative process practitioner.

I have been scouring Biblio.com and Amazon.com used book marketplace for original texts on what are today alternative photographic processes. I have by far the most success on Biblio.com which allows restricting an advanced search to a range of publication date (and sorting by price – descending from the highest is too often how I find what I am looking for).

One item I saw referenced early on when looking for information on the cyanotype process was The “Blue Print” and Its Variations, an issue of the periodical The Photo-Miniature: A Monthly Magazine of Photographic Information. For an early, and seemingly influential, magazine published from 1899 to 1935 by Tennant and Ward in New York City, it seems a bit difficult to find out much about its author and the magazine history itself.

I bought the one copy I could find of the cyanotype issue, Volume 1, No. 10 from January 1900 on Biblio.com. As I curled up reading it I discovered that the sheet for pages 489-490 was missing. Unfortunately those were the key pages describing the various formulations of the emulsion. I recently found a bound set of Volume 1 issues on Biblio.com – less the covers and much of the advertisements. Now I was complete.

I love reading these historic texts. For instance, one does sit here today and wonder why cyanotypes are not more broadly used both by current alternative practitioners and early practitioners. It is after all one of the first methods of permanently fixing an image to paper. The issue starts with the line:

The indifference of the photographic world to the ” blue print” is one of the seven wonders of that little world.

So even in 1900 people wondered why. Tennant argues over a few pages why the practicing photographer should reconsider their position with regards to cyanotypes:

But in spite of the simplicity of the ‘blue’ process, there is still just sufficient of the possibility of failure to emphasize, at every stage, what is meant by photographic carefulness, photographic cleanliness, and photographic thoroughness. The comparative harmlessness of the chemicals employed, their slight cost, as well as the variety and extent of the applications of the process, combine to recommend it as an ideal introduction to photography. (Himes)

The text goes quickly to formulas and variations around the basic process, paper choice, sizing, exposure, and toning. You’ll want to Google around for tools to convert grains and drams and such to modern measures.

Bausch and LombIt was my intent to scan and post the issue for use by others, delayed by the missing pages. In poking around I did find a partial copy (less some adverts) on the web last nite. I had already scanned my copies with Adobe Acrobat Pro and converted to a searchable PDF format (using their included Optical Character Recognition option on conversion). I have posted a large (69MB color version) that is hi-res and can be zoomed in on various browsers and PDF display tools. A smaller version works well with Adobe Acrobat. The scanning is tedious, but I was pleasantly surprised at how simple it was and how Adobe Acrobat created searchable and selectable text from the scans.

I love the advertisements in these old periodicals. And glimpses into the photographic world of the past.

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