British photographic history

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The following is a rough draft describing my latest project, well late, as I have been working on this for quite a few years now. I would appreciate any comments you may have as I eventually, by year's end, to put it on the market. I hope I am not violating any rules here due to this being a commercial project, much the same as a book might be.

I get the sneaking suspicion that there are some folks here who do research into photographic history so comments here will be quite helpful.

And lastly, if any has, or knows where public domain material lurks that I can put into the database, kindly point me in that direction. I am very much interested in adding the missing years of the BJP, so if anyone here has connections that can help let me know please.

The Pilot Database will allow one to add their own private information into it.

I hit the 100,000 word limit when I added the list so here are the books and journals:

Here is the about article:

Link to book list

The Pilot Library

I started researching early photographic processes in my mid 20's, that was in the mid 1960's. My favorite hunting ground was the fabulous UCLA Research Library. I was flexible enough then to sit on the floor and peruse about 10 feet of shelves of delicious early photo books. They were only the bottom shelves then but are now lovingly preserved in at Special Collections Library, and only available by a tedious request system.

Sitting beside me right now is a thumb drive that contains my Pilot library. (Photography Indexed Library of Technology) The tiny 64 gigabyte drive weighs about 5 grams and is everything I dreamed of having when I was sprawled out on the floor at the UCLA Research Library. This not just a collection of books, but much more. At first blush one might think this is something Google Books should have done -right? Almost certainly not, not within the bounds of something doable. It cannot be done robotic-ally, it needs to be done with creative intelligence. No one who is not well versed in photographic technology and history could have done this. And not only does it take intelligence and lots of detective work, but tedious labor.

The PILOT library is a compact and portable Regex snippet searchable database of early photographic literature published before 1924.

  • The database is over 550,000 pages and includes many thousands of books and including over 8000 weekly and monthly photographic journals.
  • Very importantly the database is indexed for high speed Regular Expression (Regex) searches.
  • The database is hierarchically structured so that by check box selection major categories of photographic literature can be searched. One can search “general manuals,” or particular subjects like “color photography” by selecting those folders to search, or one can search the complete library.
  • The database comes with its own search engine that incorporates Regular Expression (Regex) searches. 
  • A normal word search works well but a guide for elementary search queries is included for the Regex novice, however, those knowledgeable in Regex can take full advantage of its power.
  • Every individual book, journal, or patent is available in the database for immediate download to Adobe reader or PDF editor of your choice.
  • The database is self contained so no Internet connection is needed. Thus you can research away at your electronically invisible hideaway mountain cabin while on vacation.
  • .
  • It is safe to say that there is no physical collection of early photography books anywhere in the world like what is contained in the Pilot Library. And not contained collection of photography books anywhere online!

These books and journals are in the public domain, however the Pilot Database, its structure and indexes are not. The Pilot database is integrated with a powerful search engine and its indexes for high speed searches, and thus meets the criteria for copyright protection under United States law.
The books, journals and documents in the database come from numerous sources. Of course Google Books, and the Microsoft Internet Archive project (now defunct) have played a large role, but there is a newly burgeoning array of independent libraries who are providing their own online resource of scanned books. Gallica, a service from the French National Library is an important source for French language photography books and journals. Complete sets of photographic journals are very rare, and virtually do not exist. Bound yearly volumes of esoteric journals have been lost due to fire, or just having been checked out and irreplaceably lost. For instance It has been through a tedious weaving of books from a number of sources, including the French National Library's: Gallica, that I was able to obtain a near complete set of Bulletin de la Societe Francaise de Photographie. And an equally tedious detective mission to find and decipher an almost complete set of Photo-Minature.

We also have the U. S. Library of Congress who now appears to be scanning books so it too has become a resource. (Let's not forget their huge library of scanned photographs!) The number of sources for elements in this database is too numerous to list them all, and to their credit, many of these independent libraries have chosen not to deface their books by watermarking those they have scanned, so we may have lost track of the source for many of the books and journals here.

So without the Pilot Database, one would wander the Internet search world searching in various locations in order to find something and then hopefully be able to download the work referenced.
A number of sections have been included in the database that are not specifically photographically related. One such example is the one on “general chemistry.” Since early photography is chemically based, this section can be quite useful to scholars or practitioners researching a process or a formula. Since this research tool is primarily focused on photography published before 1923, these books are relevant to early photography as the chemical terminology in the general manuals is concurrent with the usage of the time – their focus was on practical, or “applied chemistry” as opposed to theoretical. Many photographic historians like myself are not trained in chemistry so these early books on chemistry are much easier to digest.

It is natural for the issue of copyright to come up. The rule is anything published before 1923 is automatically in the public domain. Since 99% of the works in the database are prior to 1923, this is largely not an issue.
We must first note the famous case of: Bridgeman Art Library vs Corel Corp. Check it out in Wikipedia at: In brief the mere copying of a public domain work does not constitute a copyright.

The next hurdle is books published between 1923 and 1964, and the word “hurdle” is very appropriate as this realm of copyright is one gigantic mess. One consideration is copyright notice in the work itself. In this period, 1923-1964, no notice means no copyright. A good example of this is the famous San Francisco photography journal, Camera Craft, it bears no copyright notice! Over 85% of the books that were copyrighted were never renewed. Those that were, were largely those by major publishers, some of which are still active today. For example: Doubleday, Knopf, and Van Nostrand. We must also note that the 15% of the works that actually were renewed were those considered “durable” by their authors and publishers. A photography magazine during that period was usually not considered durable. Why would the publisher go to all of the trouble decades later to renew the copyright, pay the fees, and fill out all the forms. The ads and information was clearly obsolete and reprinting and re-issuing would have been folly. We do have magazines like Life, or National Geographic that would be considered durable, and thus were renewed, but the publisher of Camera Craft likely thought it was not even worth copyrighting in the first place. There are only a scant fraction of the works in the database that fall into the relatively iffy area of copyright as having been published after 1923.

The situation gets even more tangled as the ledgers keeping track of those renewals at the Library of Congress were badly kept and were written by hand into ledgers. Only recently has the Stanford database become available which aids in searching this unwieldy mess. We here at the Pilot Database have diligently made every attempt honoring copyright. If you are the owner of any work included here, and believe it is in copyright, please inform us and we will remove it.
One last consideration, this database library is primarily a scholarly resource. By putting all of these works from disparate places into one database focused on works on photography (pun intended,) will save a researcher countless hours. There are approximately 2000 PDF individual volumes occupying approximately 40 gigabytes of disk space. All are in the public domain and the vast majority were published before 1924, some such as patents which are not copyrighted, and Bostick & Sullivan documents from my firm, cover the complete time span. Many of the volumes are very large and are made up of bound weekly or monthly photographic journals. There are 2000 weekly issues of the British Journal of Photography and 6852 monthly or bi-weekly issues of various photography journals. (It's very hard to get an accurate count.) There are some journals and manuals in French, German, Spanish and Italian. Now that we have discovered That many European libraries have begun scanning their own works, we will expand our foreign language collection in future editions. I want to emphasize that the Pilot Database Library is not merely a copied set of books and journals, but a highly Regular Expression searchable intelligent database.

A complete listing is available here in the Appendix.

The library will be provided on a 64 gigabyte dual USB and On-the-Go thumb drive that weighs a total of 4 hefty grams, the weight of 2 American pennies. The OTG portion will plug into most modern mobile and table devices for retrieving and if the device supports java, it should run. We have not done any extensive testing of this.


The Database is built on a folder hierarchy. One can select a parent folder and also search all the child folders, or just select a child folder. The folder structure is based on my own research experience which I believe to be what many researchers would want to use. Early generalized manuals were just that: general. In the early period there were few books that dealt with specific photographic issues. However by the late 1860's there was an expansion and many books on special topics were beginning to be published. For the most part books on a specialty topic are in the section for that if there has been enough books to warrant a special section. So a book like Hasluck's 1909, 900+ page, The Book of Photography will have many topics covered and even ones that may have a special section but the book will remain in the general category. Over the years I have extracted pertinent sections from journals and books and these will be included which may cause some duplication of hits on searches. My take is that duplicates are better than nothing.

The diligent souls who spent countless hours scanning these books had a difficult job when it came to titling what the had just scanned. Sometimes they took the title from the binder, and in other cases, from the title page. Sometimes the book may have appeared under several different titles, and perhaps in slightly different editions. This may account for some duplicates as well.

There is also here a nearly complete set of Photo-Miniature. They have been broken out into individual volumes, each issue on a separate topic. However, every original library bound set was different. One would have for instance a bound 1912, issue 15-20, another 1912-1913 issues 17-25, and perhaps missing one issue as well. This has occurred with other volumes of journals and so our task has not been just capturing the scanned volume and dumping it into a database, but has involved and breaking apart and reassembly into a coherent whole.


Docfetcher is an open source Java program and will run on any platform that runs Java including the Mac. All development and testing has been done at Photo Historica on a 12 Gig PC running Windows 10. A current version of Java may have to be installed before Docfetcher will run.

Indexed searching is high speed. One word searches take about 5 seconds. This is not the slow pig Java of the past, Java is not pretty fast.

DNGrep is an option for windows, but searching through 30 gigs worth of PDF files can take hours. But this program and other “GREP” programs can offer such benefits as phonetic “sounds like” searches. DNGrep for Windows is included in the resources file.

This and that

“Hey, there are some journals missing!”
“You betcha, Red Rider! –Lots of em.”

Theft, fire, mayhem, carelessness, and Father Time can all be blamed. Many of these journals were rare in the first place and may have existed only in one or two issues -or perhaps only for a year. And what a tangled web that was woven. Journals came and went, some got absorbed and eaten by a competitor, and others just vanished. This was the great Robber Baron period in history where monopolistic practices were the rule. Editors moved around like pieces on a chess board. To my knowledge no one has done any serious research on the genealogy of the early photographic journals – perhaps a good topic for a thesis or dissertation.

We may also consider how many of them came to be in the brick and mortar library in the first place –they were donated. This is clearly the case in many instances as is noted by their book plates. Some notable person donates their collection to the library, but the collection is not complete, perhaps on a partial collection of years, but the library accepts and puts the books into their collection.
Rather than clutter up the structure of the database, we have included a section called “orphan journals,” a repository for small editions of journals.


Dick Sullivan


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