Collection of negatives on glass plates

If possible, photograph everything, absolutely everything… The poorest image is worth more than an impression from memory”, was the advice Avguštin Stegenšek offered to the doctoral candidate France Stelè on 11 July 1910.

A photo is a direct record of visual reality, which was first made possible by a combination of physical, optical and chemical processes in the 1820’s. The mass production of photographic images began with the invention of the two-phase negative-positive process: firstly, with the wet collodium glass plate technique between 1851 and 1880, and then with a dry gelatine glass plate, which is still the standard technique for black and white analogue photography. The dry photographic procedure using photosensitive emulsion made from silver bromide and gelatine (an air-dried substance made from the bone, cartilage and skin of young animals) coated on a glass plate contributed to the development of travel and amateur photography. The plates could be prepared in advance, and the positives created later. Photographic documentation became one of the basic duties of the Monument Service.

Gelatine glass plates are the oldest negatives in the INDOK Centre photograph collection, but only 2.322 items out of 8.773 plates catalogued have been dated (26.4%). The oldest dated photographs were produced in 1904, and the most recent in 1980. Most of the photos of the former Monument Office were taken by France Stelè (1.350 negatives) and Matej Sternen (265 negatives); 950 negatives from the legacy of A. Stegenšek were purchased by the Office in 1920, at a cost of 2.000 crowns, from the art history department in Ljubljana. Most of the photographs taken after 1938 are attributed to France Mesesnel, Joško Šmuc, Marijan Zadnikar, Ivan Sedej and Jože Gorjup, a professional photographer at the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage after 1963.

Images of castles, churches, homes, excavations, works of art and people have been captured on plates of various formats (7 x 9, 8 x 10, 9 x 12, 5 x 15, 10 x 15, 13 x 18, 18 x 24 cm), while some reproductions were taken from publications. A cross-reference to the Cultural Heritage Register has been made for 6.345 plates.

Brigita Petek