Magnesium Flash Photography

Capturing the image was also about capturing movement… so in other words there was still a need to address the question of making something stand still! To find a solution to this problem, people very quickly started thinking about using a powerful and rapid-acting light source, like a magnesium flash.
In 1808, Sir Humphry Davy, inventor of the arc lamp, discovered how to isolate magnesium in its pure metallic form; nevertheless, we would have to wait until 1860 to understand its light-giving properties and to develop a process for refining it efficiently. The first time magnesium was used in photography was in 1864.
Numerous patents were lodged for lamps which used magnesium in ribbon form, producing a bright light whose duration was linked to the length of ribbon used; but these processes remained expensive, and still did not make it possible to take a truly instantaneous photograph.
The following years were dedicated to finding ways to produce a true magnesium flash, and from 1880, powder flash was developed with the addition of an oxidant for improved lighting, as well as various mechanisms facilitating its usage, such as spirit-lamp burners, or more basic devices such as powder trays, the use of which was not without its dangers!
Revolver photogénique, Dr Ranque, 1890
En actionnant une tirette sur le côté de l’appareil, on faisait descendre dans un tube une dose de poudre de magnésium contenue dans un réservoir; à l’aide d’une poire, on projetait cette dose par un conduit dans la flamme de la lampe à alcool (cylindre latéral) munie d’un étouffoir; le boîtier contenait encore une réserve d’allumettes
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