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Rosenberg Treasure: Dry Plates Featuring Historic Galveston Architecture

Dry Plates Featuring Historic Galveston Architecture

Rosenberg Treasure of the Month

Last Updated: September 10, 2023 by Rosenberg Library | History


During the month of September, the Rosenberg Library is displaying a newly acquired donation of beautiful glass plate photography of historic Galveston architecture, provided by photographer Koby Brown.

Koby Brown Photos of Galveston Architecture
Koby Brown Photos of Galveston Architecture Rosenberg Library and Museum

Wet Plate Process vs. Dry Plate Process

Before the invention of film, photographers produced images on glass plates. One was the wet plate process, which is one of the oldest types of photography. It required immediate exposure (usually within 15 minutes) after multiple chemicals were mixed for the plate. These plates were still wet when exposed, earning the process its name. In addition to chemicals, photographers relied on heavy equipment and a portable dark room to develop photographs; all of which were cumbersome. This method of photography lasted until the 1880s.

In 1871, Dr. Richard L. Maddox, a British physician and photographer, invented a revolutionary new method using dry plates. These plates are essentially negatives on thin glass plates. Unlike the previous process, these glass plates remained dry and would instead be coated with a gelatin emulsion of silver bromide. These plates could be stored until exposure and be brought back to a darkroom for development afterward. Because these plates were exposed while dry, there was no longer a need for a portable dark room. Photographers could now take photographs anywhere they wanted!

Glass plate photography remained popular until the 1920s, but was eventually replaced by the ease of film photography. Later, this was replaced by digital photography. But love of the glass plate medium is strong enough that some of these processes are making a comeback with today’s photographers, such as Koby Brown.

Koby Brown Photography and the importance of photos

Koby Brown is the Galveston photographer who created and donated the glass plates featured in this month’s Treasure of the Month. These plates are durable and will survive longer than film or digital negatives, which make them perfect for the Rosenberg Library’s archives. According to Brown, “the impermanence of digital art and photographs has inspired me to explore techniques from the past to create images that will exist in the future.”

Just like Galveston’s historic architecture, these images are “…heirlooms forged by sunlight – treasures so durable they will they will survive for hundreds of years.” As such, the “…project aims to create an archive preserving the architecture of Galveston that will last as a reference for future generations.”

Editors Note: Koby Brown’s photo project is funded in part through the City of Galveston’s Cultural Arts Commission’s 2022-2023 Public Arts Grants.


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Rosenberg Library

Rosenberg Library has offered over a century of community service to the Galveston area, and is the oldest public library in Texas in continuous operation. The building itself was dedicated on June 22, 1904, the birthday of its patron, Henry Rosenberg. The Moody Memorial Wing opened in 1971, more than doubling the floor space and allowing for a children’s library, a history center, several galleries to showcase museum collections, and later, a computer lab. The Library accepted its first museum piece shortly after it opened in 1904. Since then, thousands of rare and interesting objects from around the world have been added to the collection. Each month they display a “Treasure of the Month”. Learn more by visiting the Rosenberg Library page and the Gifts of Henry Rosenberg section.

2023-09-11T08:08:30-05:00

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This Sliding Bar can be switched on or off in theme options, and can take any widget you throw at it or even fill it with your custom HTML Code. Its perfect for grabbing the attention of your viewers. Choose between 1, 2, 3 or 4 columns, set the background color, widget divider color, activate transparency, a top border or fully disable it on desktop and mobile.