Francisco de Paula Cembrano Jr. was born in the Philippines in 1860. There is no biographical information regarding his family, childhood, or education. As he recounted in an 1894 issue of The Photographic Times, "I began photographing in 1885, but for a long time previously I had had a yearning to take photographs and to possess a camera." He further recalled he wanted to take his love of sketching to the next level and accurately portray the picturesque landscape of his travels exactly as he had first seen it. He admitted when he decided to take up photography, he had nothing in the way of technical education or knowledge. As a result, he made a common amateur photographer mistake and purchased a large and extremely cumbersome 12 x 10 camera. Eager to shed the ‘amateur’ label, Mr. Cembrano took several courses at London’s Polytechnic School of Photography.
After the proper training, Mr. Cembrano's specialties quickly became landscape and architectural photography. He also discovered that he could keep pace with constantly-evolving techniques by networking with other amateur and professional photographers. He joined the Photographic Club, made several important friends and industry contacts, and eventually became an active member of ten societies, including the Photographic Society of Great Britain. As Mr. Cembrano's professional reputation grew, so too did his public exposure. His award-winning architectural photograph, "The Alhambra" was prominently featured in an 1893 issue of The American Amateur Photographer. He bristled at any inference to photography being based more upon universal mechanics than on individual creativity. He explained, "There would be no difficulty in placing half a dozen photographers before a landscape and obtaining six entirely different renderings of the same subject. Surely if photography were mechanical the six prints produced by them should be alike."
To produce his exquisite photographs, Mr. Cembrano was committed to keeping the process as simple as possible because he fervently believed, "The simpler the developer and printing process, the more chances one has of devoting one’s entire thought to the picture itself." He had no patience with silver printing processes, and his decided preferences for printing were platinum and carbon. After experimenting with several types of cameras, Mr. Cembrano became a vocal champion of the hand camera. He also devoted considerable time and study to lantern slides, and preferred the ease and quality of dry collodion slide making. He also relied upon four developer solutions that would keep well for at least one year. Mr. Cembrano became a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society in 1895, and ancestral records reveal he married the following year. Several years of ill health forced F. P. Cembrano to retire with his wife to a villa at Cernobbio, on Lake Como, which is where he died peacefully on April 2, 1912.
1893 The American Amateur Photographer, Vol. V (New York: Outing Company, Limited), pp. 548, 573.
1912 The Photographic Journal, Vol. XXXVI (London: The Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain), p. 192.
1917 The Photographic Journal of America, Vol. LIV (Philadelphia: Edward L. Wilson Company, Inc.), pp. 543-544.
1894 The Photographic Times, Vol. XXV (New York: The Photographic Times Publishing Association), pp. 173-175.
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