Polish Photochemical Industry Pioneer
by Krzysztof Slowiński
Piotr Lebiedzinski was born in Sokolka (Ziemia Grodzienska) in 1860. He studied chemistry in Petersburg (Russia) and during his education he became interested in photography and soon began to send his photographs to exhibitions. After having settled in Warsaw, Lebiedzinski founded a small workshop in 1887, manufacturing photographic collodion papers. His operation was one of the world's first such companies. The produced paper was called "Universal collodion paper". It was offered of several color paper base, incuding white, pink, violet and green. The papers had glossy surface. Lebiedzinski was the first to open photographic shop in Polish lands - the first such warehouse was open at main Warsaw street Krakowskie Przedmiescie 65.
The company expanded rapidly and frequently introduced new and modernized products. Since 1890 the paper was improved and sold as "New paper collodion-emulsion". Two years later he marketed a wider variety of papers, among them celluloid matte paper and Aristo-type papers . Other products were introduced frequently - matte paper Photo-Crayon , collodion papers "K" . A very successful product, bromogravure [Bromograwiura] paper produced deep velvet blacks and was characterized by very small content of gelatin in emulsion. It was manufactured in the years 1906 - 1933. The other products were, for example, silver chloro-bromide Foto-paste , bromide Bromo-pastel , bromide Bromo-satyna , chloro-bromide Bromo-sepia .
Another first Lebiedzinski introduced, was a machine-produced baryta paper which was used as a base for photographic papers. This type of process is practically still used today.
Among Lebiedzinski's offers were also ready-made collodion emulsions to be independently used in making their own plates by photographers, and all photographic chemicals necessary for the photographic process. His products were exported to many European countries, including those having well-developed photochemical industry like France, Germany or England, where they successfully competed with the countries' national products.
In 1901, at a photographic exhibition in Warsaw, he was awarded golden medal for his products.
Lebiedzinski was also selling some cameras of his own design and make. One of the best known was the one  whose design was somewhat resembling functions of a cine camera. The spring-powered camera utilized glass plates upon which 5 images could be exposed, at a rate of 14 exposures per second. The exposed plate dropped to specialized container. The obtained images could be viewed with the use of a dedicated projector that allowed to observe phases of movements. It is considered as a prototype of motor-powered miniature cameras. In 1896 he designed a 9 x 12 cm camera for glass plates, that was known under the name "Chicago". Production of the camera started the same year. Besides his own products, one of the factory's shop at Trebacka 4 (in Warsaw) offered a variety of cameras and photographic materials from leading foreign manufacturers.
Among his other inventions there were for example the following: In 1900 he designed and constructed a device to photographically examine the rail strain during train passing the checkpoint. Another invention was a special camera  to photograph movements of a pupil of an eye, an instrument used by ophthalmologists. The same year Lebiedzinski started marketing a camera of his design DIOPS.
Piotr Lebiedzinski was active in photographic movement in Polish lands - he was co-editor of monthly journal "Fotograf Warszawski" and published numerous articles on various aspects of chemistry of photographic process, on intensifying action of carbon dioxide, on action and use of the Farmer's reducer, on physical developing etc.
Being a member of Association of Traders ["Kolo kupcow"] he introduced in all Polish shops well-ordered prices for photographic equipment and materials. It was his initiative to make the importers and foreign traders use on Polish lands manuals, advertising leaflets and booklets, catalogues and all related materials printed only in Polish-language. These rules were to be strictly obeyed.
In 1933, a year before Lebiedzinski's death, the factory was renamed to FOTON and in 1934 it is listed in Almanach Techniki i Przemyslu Fotograficznego 1934 as "FOTON formerly "P. Lebiedzinski". The factory in this form held out until the outbreak of WW II.
Piotr Lebiedzinski died in Warsaw on 30th January 1934. After his death the factory was managed by another highly regarded specialist Mikolaj Ilinski.
In 1988, on the centenary year of founding the factory, a commemorative plaque of bronze honoring him and some others was affixed on one of FOTON buildings, that survived the WWII.
"Spojrzenie w przeszlosc polskiej fotografii" ("A Look Back to the Past of Polish Photography") by Ignacy Plazewski, Panstwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, Warszawa 1982
"Slownik polskich pionierow techniki" ("Dictionary of Polish Pioneers of Technology') by Boleslaw Orlowski [editor], Wydawnictwo Slask, Katowice 1986
"Historia fotografii warszawskiej" ("History of the Warsaw Photography" by Waclaw Zdzarski, Panstwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, Warszawa 1974
"Fotografowie nietypowi" ("Atypical photographers") by Grazyna Plutecka & Juliusz Garztecki, Wydawnictwo Literackie, Krakow 1987
"Almanach Techniki i Przemyslu Fotograficznego 1934" ("Photographic Industry and Technology Almanac 1934"), Jan A Neuman, Warszawa 1934
"Podrƒocznik fotografji" ("Photographic manual"), T. Borzykowski i J. Jaroszynski, Warszawa 1928
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