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Flash used in 1910-1920

 
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kmmonk



Joined: 27 Jul 2004
Posts: 1

PostPosted: Tue Jul 27, 2004 9:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi.

Should be a fairly easy one for you experts but suprisingly difficult to find the answer to quickly on the web:

What would be a typical camera, and more specifically, flash, used by a journalist around 1912? Would it be one of those bulbs with the reflector behind or one of those trays with the powder in that is ignited. A link to a typical camera would be very helpful.

Thanks in advance,

Kevin.
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t.r.sanford



Joined: 10 Nov 2003
Posts: 812
Location: East Coast (Long Island)

PostPosted: Tue Jul 27, 2004 10:46 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Flashbulbs made their tentative appearance in the U.S. around 1930. Prior to that, people used flash powder -- there evidently were devices that used magnesium ribbon, too, but flash powder was favored by photojournalists. Neither flash powder, nor magnesium ribbon, nor "flash paper" (another alternative) involved an apparatus attached to the camera. You set the camera on a tripod, dumped the appropriate amount of powder into a metal tray that was attached to a short pole and fitted with something like a flintlock, held the tray over your head, opened the shutter and tripped the flintlock. This produced, among other things, a dense cloud of white smoke. If you didn't do it just right, it also scorched your hair and eyebrows. You can often tell when a photo was made with flash powder -- it's well-exposed, but everyone's eyes are closed. The glare caused them to shut their eyes before the light could register on the film.
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MikeS



Joined: 25 Nov 2003
Posts: 71
Location: East Tennessee

PostPosted: Tue Jul 27, 2004 8:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Does anyone here know if the flash powder that was used is still available? If not available as 'flash powder', is it similiar to black powder used in muzzle loading rifles/shotguns?

It would be kind of interesting and fun to try doing some flash photography using flash powder!


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Joined: 06 Apr 2002
Posts: 198
Location: Northern New England USA

PostPosted: Tue Jul 27, 2004 9:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Last time I bought flash powder was in 1981, when I was techie/roadie for my house band in college. I bought it from the same A/V house we rented speakers, amps, and mixers from in Dedham, Ma.
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t.r.sanford



Joined: 10 Nov 2003
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Location: East Coast (Long Island)

PostPosted: Tue Jul 27, 2004 9:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Flash powder was, so far as I know, in fact powdered magnesium, not a pyrotechnic mix. Among other things, you could use it to make thermite; so, in this suspicious age, I'd be kind of cautious about looking for a source of supply!

Also, one must recall that photographic uses of the stuff predate the advent of the Consumer Product Safety Commission by half a century or more. It might be fun to think of a warning label that might be affixed to a package of flash powder...
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RichS



Joined: 18 Oct 2001
Posts: 1467
Location: South of Rochester, NY

PostPosted: Wed Jul 28, 2004 3:46 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:

On 2004-07-27 14:23, t.r.sanford wrote:
Flash powder was, so far as I know, in fact powdered magnesium, not a pyrotechnic mix. Among other things, you could use it to make thermite; so, in this suspicious age, I'd be kind of cautious about looking for a source of supply!

Also, one must recall that photographic uses of the stuff predate the advent of the Consumer Product Safety Commission by half a century or more. It might be fun to think of a warning label that might be affixed to a package of flash powder...


Magnesium itself is far too slow at burning to be used as "flash" powder even if finely powdered. It would have to be mixed with an oxidizer such as a nitrate or chlorate. And if using certain chlorates such as potasium, it would be a bit unstable and quite hazardous, before and after ignition. Chlorates give off free chlorine gass when used for such things... And oddly enough in the quick search I just did, it's stated that it's mixed with Potasium Chlorate! I would NOT have a jar of that stuff laying around!!!

Thermit never had magnesium in it. It was composed of aluminum powder for the fierce buring and high temperature to burn out the oxygen from the iron oxide powder to leave pure melted iron. Used for welding train track sections together. This is a very stable compound, but once ignited, it can't be put out and is nasty stuff! Might be bright enough but not fast enough to be used for photography. And it would melt just about anything you had it in anyway

Now about modern sources of flash powder...

I really doubt it could be mail ordered in the US nowadays. But if it could be found in a nitrate base, I would sure love to find some myself as an "old-time" photo fan! Along with a flint igniter flash pan... What a setup for the family picnic!
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t.r.sanford



Joined: 10 Nov 2003
Posts: 812
Location: East Coast (Long Island)

PostPosted: Wed Jul 28, 2004 7:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The "Focal Encyclopedia" explains that an older approach to using powdered magnesium as flash powder involved "a special flash lamp burning methylated spirit, the powder being blown into the flame by air pressure from a bulb." This was superseded, it continues, by the modern kind, which is powdered magnesium "mixed with chemicals [unspecified] to make it easier to burn.
"Commercial flash powders are supplied in double containers," it goes on. "One holds the magnesium powder, and the other, the igniting compound."

As I recall, the older generation of commercial photographers kept this stuff in use well after flashbulbs were perfected, because it was better for lighting up large interiors -- you used as much as you needed -- and the experienced practitioner could determine just how much to use for any situation, providing (if you like) a sort of "variable power" unattainable with bulbs.

You might check the supplier referenced above and see whether the material is still available. As long as the family picnic is held outdoors (during the hours of darkness), the combustion products of potassium chlorate ought not to be a nuisance. But I think it would be prudent to check local ordinances on fireworks!
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Les



Joined: 09 May 2001
Posts: 2682
Location: Detroit, MI

PostPosted: Wed Jul 28, 2004 1:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Just as photographers were never to settle on one film, one developer or even one paper, There were a number of flash powder formulas around. Also a number of proprietary powders existed. I have, for the lack of a better name, a flash cartridge. It's a short cylinder about the size of a quarter made of two halves of hollowed out wood dowel. (If you can remember sewing needles coming in a wood container, the these are a larger version of the cap) A fuse exists from one side. No clue what the contents are.

Now I haven't found any confirmation of this but in an article in the 50s B.F. "Doc" Skinner, a famous press photographer and self proclaimed inventer of the Speed Graphic, also claims that "all of the photographs taken at te 1910 Democratic Convention were shot with synchronized flash powder.

While I don't think they were sync'ing at any 1/125th of a second, I'd still like to know more about it. And it also means the other chemicals certainly did accelerate the burning.

If you do a search for "flash powder magic" you'll find lots of stuff available.

Les


[ This Message was edited by: Les on 2004-07-28 06:58 ]
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office888



Joined: 19 Feb 2004
Posts: 41
Location: Southwest Michigan

PostPosted: Wed Jul 28, 2004 10:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I got very interested in flashpowder when I started to do wet plate.

http://www.lungov.com/wagner/056c.html

That is a link for a guy who own's an old little Agfa flashlamp and produced his own powder...And what camera did he use to shoot photos with it?
*acts shocked*
A Graflex!

http://www.unitednuclear.com/strobe.htm

that webpage is the recipe for flashpowder that the guy used. I attempted to mix some myself, but never got ahold of a flashlamp. Still looking...



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Micah in NC



Joined: 26 Jun 2003
Posts: 94
Location: North Carolina

PostPosted: Thu Jul 29, 2004 5:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Les,

Do you mean powder like this?

http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&category=11739&item=5911258244&rd=1&ssPageName=WDVW

(It's eBay item # 5911258244.)

I just found magnesium ribbon, $7 a roll:
http://unitednuclear.com/chem.htm

--Micah in NC

[ This Message was edited by: Micah in NC on 2004-07-29 10:36 ]
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t.r.sanford



Joined: 10 Nov 2003
Posts: 812
Location: East Coast (Long Island)

PostPosted: Fri Aug 13, 2004 2:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The successful bidder on the flash powder may want an apparatus to fire it. One may be seen at

http://www.marriottworld.com/stock_pics/olderpics/flasholder.htm

...but watch out for your eyebrows!
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glennfromwy



Joined: 29 Nov 2001
Posts: 903
Location: S.W. Wyoming

PostPosted: Sat Aug 14, 2004 3:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

In 1910 - 1920, photo journalism was in it's infancy. Large metropolitan papers usually had a few pictures but small town papers usually didn't. Magazines had not yet reached the point where pictures were abundant. A great majority of the magazine pictures of the time were artist's drawings.

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"Wyoming - Where everybody is somebody else's weirdo"
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t.r.sanford



Joined: 10 Nov 2003
Posts: 812
Location: East Coast (Long Island)

PostPosted: Sat Aug 14, 2004 1:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The pace of change was slower in those days, and steel engraving, faced with the competition of photoengraving (perfected in 1886), hung on a lot longer than obsolescing graphics technologies do at present. My older relatives remembered seeing steel engravers at work for big-city publications. They sat on heavy metal platforms, suspended by springs from the ceiling to minimize the vibration of passing brewery wagons, elevated trains, and the like. Their right arms and hands were hypertrophied.

But those artists/engravers often worked from photographs, so there were photographers at work before the use of photoengravings became prevalent. Also, of course, WWI created a great demand for news, and spurred publications to adopt photomechanical reproduction. There were a lot more photos published in 1920 than there had been in 1910.
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