Baechler, Charles (Portland)

Baechler, Charles (Portland)

Wagner, Charles and Louis

Wagner Brothers.

These three photographers operated the last wet plate portrait studio in Oregon. In the 1880s, all three had jobs working in print shops. By the mid 1880s they were photoengravers, making halftone printing plates to reproduce photographs by a printing press. The making of a printing plate first requires making a negative of the artwork. The wet plate process of making negatives was favored by photo engravers because wet plates were grain-free and they were reusable, resulting in higher quality and lower cost.

Around 1889 the three of them had an electrotyping shop on Stark St., and all of them lived near each other on G at 23rd. In 1891 they moved the printing plate business to 576 G. St. (mis-printed “B St.” on some Baechler & Wagner mounts,) which was changed to 776 Glisan by the 1891 street renumbering. By 1892, the address was 778 Glisan, which could be either a move next door or an adjustment of the renumbering. (The street was mis-spelled Gleason on some Baechler & Wagner mounts.) The location is NW Glisan near 23rd. Here they opened a photoengraving business and a portrait studio. This portrait studio used the then-obsolete wet plate negatives for portraiture as well as photoengraving. Wet plate negatives had gone completely out of use for portraiture at least six years earlier because dry plates were much more sensitive to light. With dry plates, an instantaneous exposure (about a second) would be sufficent. Wet plate required 4 seconds to half a minute. Probably Baechler & the Wagners decided to use wet plate because the wet plate darkroom was already setup. Since the plates were reused they cost practically nothing.

Their old wet plate camera is preserved by the family, with the original lens. They used a rapid rectilinear design that was much longer than normal. The disadvantage of this design is that it was “slow,” which extended the already long exposure times. However, the advantage was that it was much sharper than the fast Petzval design portrait lenses commonly used. The photographers did some view work in addition to portraiture, and all of their prints are very sharp. Their 8×10 Anthony camera started out as a dry plate type and was modified for wet plate use. The plate holders had the glass corners. But they didn’t put a drip gutter in the camera to collect surplus silver runoff, which many wet plate cameras had. The portrait studio was probably killed by the 1893 depression, although the Wagners continued the photoengraver operation until 1895.