A rare image of powder flash in photography

I recently restored a photo of a football team, Balliol Invicta Football Club winners, Division one, Southwark and District 1910-1911. I’ll show that in another post.

The photo needed restoring and turned out great but it came with another photo, presumably a related photo. It depicts men in suits perhaps investors or club members, perhaps celebrating the win at dinner, in a large high-ceilinged dining room. This was also restored but revealed a secret hiding in the details.

Football photo from around 1910 with hidden secrets discovered in the mirror

Football photo from around 1910 with hidden secrets discovered in the mirror

The most interesting thing about this photo is the rare sighting of the photographer’s assistants in the photo but captured in a mirror on the wall. They are both holding large, flash powder trays high in the air, their thumbs firmly pushed on the fuse trigger. The bright white areas appear to be clouds of smoke and the flash cloud and fierce flash. The room that was lit with these flashlights has a very high ceiling but the magnesium/potassium mix has done the job very well.

Rare photo of powder flash in action

A Rare photo of powder flash in action

Early flashlights around  1880 – 1910 were mainly the powder flash type.  A mix of Potassium perchlorate, Potassium chlorate and Magnesium powder was put in a long line inside a flash powder tray, visible in the photo. A long-handled metal tray, lit by a mechanical burning fuse, operated by a finger or thumb. The shutter was opened on the camera, or cap removed from the lens, boom! Flash fired, the cap was replaced or shutter closed. Varying amounts of powder were needed for different situations. Overdo it and risk blowing yourself up and there were fatalities!

The side effect of high-powered powder flash was the smoke and smell and ash fallout. If used in confined spaces such as photographer’s studios, it would not take long for the smoke to fill up the room, and I’m sure the ash would not be too good for your suit either! I hope you find this as interesting as I did to discover it. The hairs on the back of my neck go up when I find little gems like this in such a highly detailed photo. Once again a testament to the quality of the photographic process back in the early days.

If anyone can offer any more info on the dinner photo feel free to get in touch and ill pass it onto Surrey FA.

(REF:Rward)             Credit: Thank you kindly to the Surrey FA who let me use these pictures

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