This article is reproduced from a booklet produced in 1960 to celebrate the centenary of the BPS

THE FIRST YEAR OF THE SOCIETY

Old plate camera illustrationWe can find no public announcement of the intention to form a society in Bradford. It seems as if a number of enthusiasts already in contact with one another decided to form themselves into a society. This intention was implemented on the 7th November 1860 at a meeting arranged informally, but it was not until after that the local and photographic Press received any information.

The majority of members had no wish for publicity and only the first two meetings were reported to the Bradford Observer. In December 1861 they decided to send no further reports to the Press. There is no evidence that they wished to recruit outsiders and the only recorded additions in the first year are two men admitted in February 1861. The printed “Library list" probably shows the names of all the members. Seventeen of these names appear in the published records. We should know very little of their proceedings had it not been for the lucky chance that one member sent unofficial reports of meetings to the British Journal of Photography. These reports were fortunately in great detail, presenting a clear picture of the Society and its working. It is interesting to go through their first year's programme which reveals a striking resemblance to our activities today.

 

Though the syllabus (reproduced on another page) has been drawn up as we should prepare it today, they worked in fact without a set programme. It was usual at each monthly meeting to arrange what should be done at the next meeting. And it must be remembered that much of interest may not be recorded at all. For example, the elected president was J V Godwin; but in January 1861, R Parkinson, PH D was taking the chair as president. Godwin's name does not reappear; the change may have resulted from the first of the disputes which occurred during the last quarter of the century.

Generally the meetings foreshadow those of today particularly our group meetings rather than our main meetings. There were demonstrations of methods, discussions of newly introduced processes, displays and criticism of members' work, an invitation display of a distinguished outsider, a paper by an outside expert (who could today be on the Y P U list), and an outing in the summer. They had a library and gifts to it are recorded, as are those to the Society's portfolio (today we call it a "permanent collection"). They had no dark-room; but Mr Fletcher had "pleasure in placing his photographic operating room at the disposal of members". They resolved to hold an "open" exhibition with a wide appeal to outside workers. They got as far as inviting the co-operation of what is now the Royal Photographic Society; but there is nothing in the records to show that the event took place.

We know nothing of what happened at the first meeting, except that they did form the Society and elected officers, etc, and (presumably) arranged for the December meeting at which W H Leather demonstrated the "Waxed Paper Process". This was a variation of calotype, involving the use of waxed paper for the purpose of the negative. Its speed was very low-exposures would run into many minutes. Evidently some members questioned Leather's claims, for at the next meeting he produced for inspection "several well defined prints from waxed paper negatives". The title of the January 1861 paper is amusing; the author thought so highly of it that he sent the text to the editor of the British Journal of Photography who published it.

In February, S H Stanley, the treasurer (then clearly a much more important officer than the secretary), should have given a paper. He turned up, but said that "through a misunderstanding, his paper was not prepared"! No one seemed to mind; instead he proposed "procuring a Ross Instantaneous Stereo Lens for the benefit of members". (This was newly introduced; it was a short focus "portrait" lens.) This was agreed, and a committee of four appointed to examine it, including Stanley. With this, and print criticism, they seem to have filled the evening very happily. It is to be hoped he had prepared his paper by March, but we have no report of this meeting. In April the ubiquitous Stanley gave the interim report on the lens; he apparently had made all the test negatives and most of the prints displayed.

In May J Beldon described fully his working methods, and the "BJ" published his paper in full. This was one of the best of the ways of making a dry plate, and involved first the making of a sensitized wet plate and then several treatments under very precise conditions. The final operation was to coat with albumen, and in the debate it emerged that the staler the albumen and the worse its smell, the better the 'result! The paper "was illustrated by a very large and choice selection of beautiful stereoscopic negatives and prints, of which several were given to the portfolio". There was also a final report on the lens; briefly they didn't seem to think it worth its price. In June they sold the lens by auction.

The price obtained "was disappointing, but the Society sustained no loss". In view of the report this was fortunate! "Some conversation also took place about a proposed excursion of the members with their cameras, it being suggested that such would be advantageous to the health of the members and might possibly increase the contents of their portfolios; but the matter not being strictly within the rules, was left for private arrangement." However strange the last phrase may seem today, we can still appreciate that "possibly"! The outing was duly held, though we do not know its date. At the July meeting when the President asked for a report, "several members opened their plate boxes and exhibited many beautiful views", mostly by the tannin process-another way of making a dry plate. The "plate boxes" probably held stereoscopic transparencies.

Mr Beldon reported that they left by the 8.30 am train for Crag Vale, and the first part of the day was bad. "On the road, a heavy fall of rain depressed the spirits of the party." (Apart from the early start, we have all been on such outings!) But it cleared up by 1 pm "and the rest of the day was very pleasantly spent. ... Several parties might be seen at one time' busily occupied in their yellow bags changing plates." Then Dr Parkinson, without vacating the chair, gave his demonstration. The meeting also agreed to "support the London P S in its endeavour to secure a more legitimate classification of photographic art" at the coming Exhibition of 1862 "and if Her Majesty's Commissioners refuse to make any alteration in the position assigned, the Society also concurs in its determination to decline exhibiting." Let us hope .the threatened boycott was effective! The August meeting seems to have been just general discussion; they seem generally agreed that all dry plates were much slower than wet ones, that they weren't as good as could be desired, and that "a quick dry process" was needed.

They also (including Abbey himself) agreed that Mr Abbey should give a paper next month, on a new process which he had used. Unfortunately, in September he stated that in preparing it "he had made several important discoveries which had led him to go back to the beginning of his researches, and he requests the Society to let his paper come before the next meeting". However, he brought "several large negatives" by two processes, and he displayed "an excellent contrivance for washing plates after sensitisation". We now have "Gadget Nights" for such things. There was another modern touch: the President referred to "the circulation of photographic literature, as many inaccuracies had occurred", but said darkly that it couldn't be put right until the Annual Meeting.

In October, Abbey did not give his paper, for they had one by George Shadbolt, Editor of the B.J, which was not published in his paper until after the meeting. There was "an animated discussion between dry and wet plate workers". They also appointed a committee to select the presentation photograph, and to consider an exhibition.

The annual meeting in November was a very busy one. The treasurer read the annual report and accounts, and then "distributed the presentation photograph". It looks as if every member received a copy of the selected print. This selection was clearly the equivalent of our award of a trophy, but we are not told who was the winner! They had on display a number of prints "by Mr Mudd of Manchester", a well-known worker. These were criticized in turn by a member. Lest the first members chose the best prints to talk about (no doubt that means the easiest !), "to be fair" they "placed the name of each photograph on a piece of paper, and put them into a bag" and, as each member's turn came to criticize, they drew out for him the title of a print. It doesn't seem to us the ideal method of print criticism; but they evidently enjoyed it, for it took so long that the election of officers had to be postponed to the next meeting!