Born in Paris in 1824, Adolphe-Alexandre Martin developed a fascination with photography at an early age and became an accomplished amateur photographer. While serving as a professor of chemistry and physics at Paris' College Sainte-Barbe, the young educator was also a committee member of the Royal Photographic Society. Dr. Martin conducted several laboratory experiments on light as a student of physicist Jean-Bernard-Leon Foucault. Professor Foucault received international attention when he demonstrated how the earth rotates on its axis by suspending a pendulum from the dome of the Parisian Pantheon. Dr. Martin assisted Professor Foucault in the construction of the Paris Observatory's Great Telescope.
During this period, Dr. Martin was also independently working on modifying the ambrotype photographic process developed by Englishman Frederick Scott Archer. In his variation of the wet collodion technique, Dr. Martin placed a clear protective varnish over his collodion negative, which he first applied to glass and then later onto a black varnished metal plate. He then applied a colored varnish to the negative, which not only protected the image but also chemically converted it from negative to positive. This ambrotype modification - known interchangeably as tintype or ferrotype - was typically formatted in the carte-de-visite plate size of 2-1/2 x 4-4-1/2 inch, but Dr. Martin's tintype plates were found to be as tiny as postage stamps.
On April 18, 1853, Dr. Martin shared his exciting new process in a paper he delivered to the Academie des Sciences. He also provided a wood photographic tracing and steel engraving he made from a collodion positive image as supporting evidence of his invention. Dr. Martin explained that his original objective had not merely to create a photographic image, but to assist the engraver in replacing the artist's tracing or drawing. Therefore, he initially favored utilizing plates that were made from substances most receptive to engraving such as wood, steel, copper, not and not the iron that became the preference of photographers. Because the image would be destroyed after engraving, Dr. Martin suggested that a second image be produced on glass so the design could be used for future reference.
Dr. Martin quickly recognized the widespread applications of the tintype process. For example, glass plate images were not easily transportable; however, images composed onto metal or cardboard were. His research findings were published in La Lumiere and the Comptes rendus of the Academie des Sciences and received immediate worldwide acclaim. Dr. Martin's versatile tintype invention was popular for its expedient and inexpensive portraits that took photography out of the studio and onto the battlefield. Many of the Civil War portraits were done using the tintype process.
For his efforts, Dr. Martin was made a Knight of the Legion of Honor, France's most prestigious award of merit, in 1870. Adolphe-Alexandre Martin died in 1896, but his tintype process continued to be used around the world well into the twentieth century.
1870 The Athenaeum (London: Hodder & Stoughton), p. 520.
2003 The Life and Science of Leon Foucault: The Man Who Proved the Earth Rotates (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press), pp. 265-266.
2009 Photographs of the Past: Process and Preservation (Los Angeles: The Getty Conservation Institute), p. 34.
2007 Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. XCVII, No. II (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society), p. 29.
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