I have recently been working on an exhibition, part of which includes photographic equipment made by Johnsons of Hendon. The roots of the company can be traced back to the 18th century and the assayer John Johnson, whose Johnson & Sons firm would go on to provide chemicals for the Fox-Talbot calotype photographic process from around 1839. In the period prior to WWII, the company was providing many of its chemicals for military photography, but also for the new ‘Home Photography’ kits that were being aimed at the amateur market. After WWII, under its new name of Johnsons of Hendon, the firm began selling its own complete ‘Home Photography Outfit’ kits.
These kits came with developing tank, mixing flasks, developing trays, thermometer, contact printer, other paraphernalia and several boxes of photographic paper. I am a novice in the photographic arts, but was informed by those more knowledgeable than me that the paper would be desensitised and useless. By accident, I recently left a sheet out and noticed later that it had turned black. One of the Johnsons’ printing frames that I had bought still had a negative in it, so I put the negative in to the one of the printing frames, placed a sheet of 70-year-old photographic paper on top of it, and set it face up on my windowsill in the blazing midday sunshine.
After 15 minutes, I took the paper out of the frame. With no stop bath, or any knowledge of what one was, I quickly took a photograph of it, and this is the result. Before printing, I had held the negative up to the light. I could make out the general tableau and see that there were figures, but the vitality that the final print revealed was startling. Such a romantic and magical experience was this that I fancied I felt some of that wonder the early 19th-century pioneers must have felt when viewing their first experiments.
Nigel Martin Shephard