Claire Evans, dry plate process, gelatin, Godfrey Bingley, Kirkstall Abbey, Leeds, Leeds University, Michael Sadler, photgraphic emulsion, photography, Richard Leach Maddox, Shaw Lane, Sheepscar, Stanley Sabgalle, wet collodion process
I’m back from blustery Scarborough after being away from my dear diary for a whole month! Did you miss my chatterbox column? I was away to look after my aunt who sadly passed on last week after a long illness. Who knows what killed her, but she was in much pain so her trusted old family physician, Dr Stutcliffe visited every day to administer morphine and more morphine daily. After her passing I stayed on for a couple of days to sort her things out and let the help go. Her funeral took place three days ago and I already miss her, even though she was not my own aunt, but my Stanley’s mother’s sister. We used to love visiting her, such a free spirit, loved frolicking on the seaside and writing piquant poetry that made us young lovers blush and giggle. Ladies like her are hard to find in our serious modern age…
Sorting through her boxes and papers I found so many amazing relics from the past! It made me go up in my own attic yesterday and I just sat there with an old lamp for an hour until my legs went numb. I looked at Stanley’s old photography equipment and even found some of his chemicals, I wonder how long ago they have expired… I used to help him develop photographs when we still had our business. All these memories surfaced because the day I returned to work I heard from Godfrey Bingley again and more boxes arrived to the office from his home.
Funnily enough I actually have a photo of Scarborough by him, whether it came from Stanley or Aunt Betty, I don’t know. I can tell you nothing’s changed in Scarborough since 1887 when this picture was taken!
Earlier this year, he had donated all the lantern slides and negatives he had taken to the University of Leeds, due to his failing eyesight. Sir Michael [Sadler, Vice Chancellor] has recently received further slides and his instructions that these should be kept together, preferably in the Geological department. I understand he worked a great deal with Professor Kendall from Geology and took a lot of pictures of rock formations around Yorkshire and all kinds of geological samples.
Because I’m a gossip and tend to socialise with other gossips gladly, I know all about his family. He now lives in Shaw Lane, Meanwood, but was originally born to Mary and Godfrey Bingley on Skinner Lane in Sheepscar on 3 July 1842. He grew up there and went to business with his uncle John, on Harper Street Foundry, where he worked on and off due to ill health, eventually taking ownership of the foundry. He married Lizzie Huckvale of Over Norton in 1878, and had daughters Edith born in 1879 and Mary Gertrude in 1882. In 1884, aged 42 he retired and took up a number of hobbies and interests, becoming an active member in a number of societies, historical, geological, Liberal Club, and so on. Three years later, in 1887 he began taking photographs and never looked back until this year when he realised he is no longer able to work.
My Stanley took active interest in his work back then because he worked with advanced technology and experimented a lot. His preferred medium was the gelatin dry plate, which has always fascinated me. Stanley was very keen on this method too and his first big investment in the business was a full equipment with all the chemicals and plates. He hardly had a chance to try it before he passed on. I believe now it is a bit obsolete but back in the nineties it was very advanced.
In 1871 Dr Richard Leach Maddox, a physician and microscopist, who was also a keen amateur photographer, suggested the use of gelatin as a replacement for collodion. Solutions of soluble halide were run into a warm solution of gelatin, thus forming a fine precipitation of silver halide – the photographic emulsion. In reality it is a suspension rather than an emulsion, as a true emulsion is a dispersion of one liquid in another liquid, but we called it emulsion all the same. Now, the photographic emulsion was poured over glass plates, and due to the presence of the gelatin, they quickly set and dried. Thus was produced the first photographic dry plate. Since a dry gelatin film layer absorbs water and swells when placed in an aqueous solution, the plate could be developed and fixed successfully following exposure in the dry state. Initially the original dry plates, prepared by Maddox, were not very sensitive: a 180 times slower than the wet collodion process! However, other photographers, including John Burgess, Richard Kennett and Charles Bennett, improved and sped up the process to enable factory mass-production of gelatin dry plates. This is the technology Mr Bingley used and I often wonder if Stanley’s precious Eastman kit, bought shortly after our honeymoon, would still work. It’s all films and box cameras these days, all the young people click away with Kodak ‘brownies’, but nothing can re-create the quality and elegance of a dry plate photograph, I’ll tell you…
All this brought back so many happy memories about Aunt Betty and my beloved husband, God rest their soul. I grow melancholic when I’m alone. I wish my silly daughter was here to laugh at all the old-fashioned frocks in those photographs. She does cheer me up to no end and I miss her so much when I’m sad and begin to talk to all the ghosts from the past.
Godfrey Bingley donated his collection of glass plates and negatives to the University of Leeds in 1913. He died in 1927.
The collection is now held in The Leeds University Library Special Collection, where it is being fully digitised and made accessible to view the images online.
One of the first pictures the collection holds was taken in 1887. Bingley kept extremely precise notes of when and where he took his photographs, and these notes are part of the collection too. We know, for example, that he took pictures of Kirkstall Abbey in Leeds on 4 May 1888.
The Digitisation Team of the library will take photographs at the exact same place and time in the morning on 4 May 2013 to celebrate Godfrey Bingley‘s invaluable gift to the University of Leeds.
In the afternoon Claire Evans from The Stanley & Burton Gallery will be hosting ‘Combobulate Leeds!‘, a creative interactive workshop using Bingley’s Leeds photographs and quite a few overhead projectors in the Parkinson Court! Come along and create your own wacky Leeds to project on the walls of the court! Let’s play!
Many thanks to Beccy Shipman, Digital Content Coordinator at the Leeds University Library Special Collections, for Lavender’s insight into the dry plate process and Godfrey Bingley’s life…