Linnaeus Tripe: Working Methods
Tripe preferred to use the Calotype, or waxed paper negative, to make most of his photographs. The Calotype was sparked by William Henry Fox Talbot's experiments in England in the mid-1830s. By 1840 Talbot had developed the process, which involved using paper coated with light-sensitive silver iodide as a negative, fixed in a chemical solution of sodium thiosulphate. The negative enabled multiple copies of the image to be reproduced on sheets of paper coated with light-sensitive silver chloride, exposed in sunlight. Since the fibres of the paper negative became part of the image transferred onto the paper print, the prints had a 'soft focus' look.
As photography developed towards the end of the 1850s, waxed paper negatives were generally dropped in favour of dry collodion-on-glass negatives, which produced sharper images deemed more suitable for documentary and topographical photography.
Even though using waxed paper negatives was very difficult in the hot and humid Indian climate, it is thought that Tripe continued to use paper as he was concerned about the dangers of glass breaking. Paper negatives were also easier to use and to transport.
When Tripe exhibited in the annual exhibition of the Madras Photographic Society in 1859 he exhibited 50 photographs from his 1857-8 tour. Forty-six of the 50 exhibited images were made from paper (calotype) negatives, which the committee felt were not as successful as dry collodion-on-glass negatives, declaring that 'the superiority of definition given by collodion (-on-glass) is very visible when placed side by side with them'. Nevertheless, the jury dubbed Tripe's photographs 'the best in the Exhibition' but as he could not be classed an amateur, he could not win the gold medal. Tripe declined the silver medal amicably, since he considered that as an official photographer he had an unfair advantage over the other entrants. Tripe's photographs were valued for their informational value and their technical quality. The adjudicating committee stated that Tripe's photographs 'illustrate admirably the architecture of the Hindoo Temples and Places of Southern India, and in particular the Madura and Tanjore series comprise in this respect all that is most worthy of record in those cities.'
In the latter half of the 19th century, paintings were increasingly considered idealisations, whilst photographs were understood as factual. Because of this, any retouching of the negative or resulting print was officially frowned upon. The Madras Exhibition jury ignored retouching on negatives but rejected any retouching of the print in oils.
Retouching the negative or print was however very common before the technological advances later in the 19th century. This is because the sky often appeared washed out in landscape photographs. Since long exposures were necessary in order to capture detail in the foreground, sky, much lighter than the foreground subject, was over exposed, and appeared stark white. To improve the sky, photographers, Tripe included, often painted clouds or shading onto the negative. Tripe mainly made 12 x 14 inch paper negatives and stereoscopic negatives on glass, as well as few 11 x 14 inch dry collodion-on-glass negatives.