Hercule Florence was one of the pioneers of Photography, in Campinas, in the interior of São Paulo State. His discoveries in this field emerged when he was trying to find simple and efficient reproduction techniques, a concern that had already led him to the creation of Poligraphy.
His first record on the possibility of “printing by the action of light” dates from January 15th, 1833. In his manuscripts, the Franco-Monegasque already reveals his knowledge of the chemical qualities of silver nitrate, an information that was transmitted by his friend, the young apothecary Joaquim Corrêa de Mello, who worked in the pharmacy of Hercule’s father-in-law, Francisco Álvares Machado e Vasconcellos, a physician and prominent public figure in São Paulo State.
Click to enlarge
Given his vast expertise as a draftsman for the Langsdorff Expedition and his artistic family background, Hercule Florence had already used the camera obscura. He employed paper exposed with silver nitrate and rudimentary, self-built darkrooms in his early photographic efforts. He obtained negative photographs after four hours of exposure, but they were inverted and had an unfavorable dark/light ratio. His manuscripts claim that he used this method to create a description of what he observed out of his window, a bust of La Fayette, and the Campinas prison.
Of these early images, in a camera obscura, only the textual record remains today, since the photographic objects darkened when exposed to the environment. The challenge of permanent fixation and the desire to achieve a direct image led Florence to test other possibilities.
In search of a positive image, the inventor and traveling artist then attempts to reproduce drawings on photosensitized paper in contact with a glass matrix treated with a layer of soot, exposed to light. For the first time in these experiments, besides silver by-products, he uses gold chloride for the photosensitization of the paper, an innovation that, until now, has no record in the endeavors of other precursors.
However, Hercule Florence excels at self-taught Chemistry studies. His principal sources would include Carl Wilhelm Scheele (1742-1786) and Jöns Jacob Berzelius (1779-1848). It is possible that he first learned about ammonia's ability to address one of photography's most pressing issues, the long-term fixation of images, in these readings.
Florence experimented with treating the copies produced by contact with his own urine, and later with ammonia. His tests were successful, and some of his images endure. He calls this invention “photography” and justifies the chosen name in texts dated from April 1833, six years before the use of the term by the British John Herschell and the announcement of the daguerreotype by François Arago, in France, in 1839.
Nearly 200 years after their production, these photographic proofs, the illustrations of pharmacy labels, and a Masonic diploma are still in existence. The items are among the world's oldest known photographic images.