Chaitanya Guttikar

Mungo Ponton – A tribute to the grandfather of the Gum Bichromate and other dichromate processes.

20th November is the birth anniversary of a very important yet hardly known figure in the history of photography. The Scottish inventor Mungo Ponton.


Photo of Mungo Ponton, Inventor of light sensitivity of Dichromate Salts

Mungo Ponton – Grandfather of Bichromate Process

Most of the photographic processes before the digital era could be traced back in some form to the efforts of the two formidable Englishmen Henry Fox Talbot and John Herschel, names well known in alternative photography and photohistory. Yet, there have been numerous other contributors to this fascinating field of drawing with light, that deserve their due place and respect. One such name is Mungo Ponton.

A farmer’s son, born and raised in Edinburgh, Mungo became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh at the age of 34. In 1838, the Society of Arts for Scotland awarded Mungo the silver medal for his contributions to the development of the electrical telegraph. From the Wiki entry on Mungo Ponton:

In 1839, while experimenting with early photographic processes developed that year by William Henry Fox Talbot, Mungo discovered the light-sensitive quality of sodium dichromate. He presented his findings to the Society of Arts for Scotland on 29 May. Mungo did not attempt to patent the photographic process and published his findings in the Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal. Others experimented with his discovery including Talbot, Edmund Becquerel, Alphonse Poitevin, and John Pouncey, all of whom patented their photographic techniques.

Mungo continued to work on photography and in 1845 the Society again awarded him a silver medal for his process for measuring the hourly variation in temperature of photographic paper. That year he also developed a variation on the calotype process to allow for shorter exposure times.

The discovery of the lightsensitivity of dichromates lead to further experimentation by Talbot, Pointvin and Pouncey culminating in a plethora of new photographic processes such as gum bichromate, photograveure and the carbon print.

Gum bichromate print on Cyanotype of a bird near water shot and printed by Chaitanya Guttikar

“Bird Near Water” – Gum Bichromate Print (© Chaitanya Guttikar)

Many of these names will be known to at least the people working in alternative photography – Edmund Becquerel, for example, is known to everyone who makes (or attempts) Daguerreotypes without using mercury vapours. Others like Ponton and Poitevin receive a 500 word Wiki page for their efforts. Some, like Pouncey receive a footnote.

Not every inventor in the history of photography had the grand commecial aspirations of Lois Daguerre or the business acumen of Talbot and others, but that should not diminish their contributions to the everchanging everevolving artform. Daguerre and Talbot were like dazzling suns in the field of photography whose work will never be overshadowed. Yet the field of photography would not be what it is today without the small but significant contributions by the likes of Ponton. It is our duty and responsibility as keepers of light to remember them with the same humility and generosity with which they gave us their inventions. R.I.P. Mungo Ponton.

Famous Indian Photographer Sunil Janah Passes Away.

Sunil Janah, One of the stalwart figures in Indian Photography from the British Raj era passed away a few days ago (21st June) at the age of 94. Remembered most strongly for his powerful photographs of the Bengal Famine and portraits of the political tumult of the 1940s and 1950s, Janah was one of those photographers who was in fact a political activist with photography as his chosen tool for bringing social change, not unlike his contemporary Alberto Corda. (more…)

Macro Photography Tip: using Normal Lens ‘turned around’

I am not much into macro photography, (unless we are talking about scanning tunneling microscope photography) but I am always interested in people experimenting with Do It Yourself photography equipment and techniques. One such well known technique, when you don’t want to invest in an expensive Macro Lens, is to just take any (preferably normal or wider) prime lens and turn it around – i.e. mount it on your camera with the front element towards the film/sensor and the back element facing the subject.

Macro Photograph of a bug taken using an Inverted lens

This gives you the desired magnification required for photographing tiny objects – voila! Macro Photography. The main tricky part for this macro setup is (more…)

Photographic Wetting Agents for film processing at home.

I see this kind of question very frequently being posted in forums.

Proper film drying after wetting agent use.I developed my first B&W film.  It’s developed ok but I got drying marks on the negative.
I couldn’t find Kodak photo flo or similar product in my city or online. My tap water is hard water. Is that a problem too? Please help.

How does a photographic wetting agent work ? : If you read the contents of a bottle of wetting agent, or their MSDS (material safety data sheets), you will find out that photographic wetting agents are nothing but a mixture of (more…)

Black and white film fixer times.

Sir John Herschel : Inventor of Sodium Thiosulfate Photographic Film fixer as well as the Cyanotype Process.For people beginning film processing at home, some of the common questions are “What is the correct fixing time for Agifix rapid fixer?” (or any other fixer), “Do I need to add a hardener in my fixer?” and “How long can I use the fixer working solution before it exhausts?”.

If you have encountered these questions, you are in the same boat as Sir John Herschel, the inventor of Hypo. But we now understand the fixing process much better and have more concrete answers to all these questions compared to Mr. Herschel. So here is our current understanding of things: (more…)

Better Shadows Detail / Highlight separation in Gelatin Silver Prints – Potassium Bromide.

Recently, I was asked if some tiny things could be done to adjust sharpness, increase highlight/shadow development, change grain size by fiddling with the chemistry that’s going inside the bottle while developing. More specifically,  the effects of adding Potassium Bromide (KBr) and and whether you might end up with some crispier images with bigger grain.

The answer to all the above questions is Yes. But in this post we will specifically talk about the KBr.

Potassium Bromide Crystals

Potassium Bromide (KBr) is a restrainer. As explained elsewhere, any film developer has four components : Developing Agent, Accelerator/Alkali, Preservative and Restrainer. The job of the restrainer is to prevent the development of grains that received no light (or very little light).

So, if you are getting excessive fog (more…)

Digital Revolution and Mahatma Gandhi – A comparison of Salt March and Alternative Processes in Photography.

May 11, 2011

Mohandas Gandhi

This July, I will be participating in THE SALT PRINTS photo walk. It is a contemporary artists’ march with the aim to retrace the historical “Dandi March – the 387 km walk from Sabarmati to Dandi”, which launched the history’s greatest nonviolent battle, the civil disobedience campaign, headed by the father of the nation, the great Mahatma Gandhi, in 1930.

I have always been intrigued by the monumental role played by Mahatma gandhi in India’s freedom struggle.

The most awe inspiring aspect of his achievements is his contribution in (more…)

Stand Development in D76 Developer Fiasco

Do you want to know if it’s a good idea to do Stand development in D76? And what dilution to use for that? Then here is the short answer.  In one line : DON’T DO IT! Based on my personal experience, various experiments and logic based on photochemistry-

I used 1:4 D76 in my 1500 ml tank that takes 6 negatives of 4×5 size as a first try. The commonly followed stand development procedure is 1 minute initial agitation followed by 1 hour (or time of your choice) stand with no agitation (True Stand development). I knew, even before I started, that being a solvent developer, D76 is not a good candidate for stand development. Actually, there are two reasons why it’s not a good choice but we will get to that. (more…)

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