Studios in Prussia.

Herr J. C. Schaarwächter in the Friedrichstrasse, Berlin.

— By H. Pritchard —

A neat little office, with counter and show-cases around the room, forms the ante-chamber of Herr Schaarwächter’s studio. Herr Schaarwächter enjoys a high reputation as a portraitist—perhaps the highest in Berlin. His work, whether it is a soft vignette, or a deep and vigorously-printed study, betokens the care and assiduity of a man who loves his calling, and strives his every nerve for success. Like Luckardt, Herr Schaarwächter poses every model himself, and employs plate after plate on a difficult subject until the sun declines, and the model grows aweary. The photographer himself, however, seems never to tire; the interest he takes in his work keeps up his unflagging spirit. Herr Schaarwächter’s hour for ending his labours in the glass-room is two o’clock; but it was five ere he regretfully gave back his sitter—a tiny, blonde-haired English Miss, of four or five—into the charge of her parents.

Before we leave the office, there is one practical feature about it that may be recorded, since it demonstrates what may be done in a small space towards the exhibition of pictures. There is against one of the walls a cabinet, on the inside of which are attached photographs of various kinds. The inside wall, you see, is not, however, the actual back of the cabinet, for you may seize and open it (it is on hinges), and behind is displayed another show of pictures. This second back opens in like manner, and displays a third and fourth, so that the cabinet holds a large collection which, while readily displayed, are within a very small compass. But the best of the arrangement is its exceeding simplicity. The false backs, or walls, that open one after another, are all on the same hinge, or, rather, turn on the same pivot. As shown in our sketch, it is only necessary to lengthen the arm of every successive hinge, in order to make one back fold over the other. Thus the outer back or flap of the cabinet, which folds over all the rest, is made fast to hinge a, while the next in order is fixed to b, until we come to the inside flap of all, which is carried by hinge e. With this economical means of exhibiting pictures, the customer need go no further than the little counting-house to select the kind of portrait he desires.

Fig. 1

A handsome salon, the furniture covered with green velvet, serves as waiting-room; but there are few portraits to be seen here, as the visitor is supposed to have made his selection ere he penetrates thus far. In the glass-room there are several points to note. In the first place, Herr Schaarwächter has no lines or cords for the moving of his blinds or curtains. These, of blue linen, hang in very loose festoons from the roof. Brass wires run the whole length of the glass roof; they are parallel, and, perhaps, two feet apart. They are kept taut—this is very necessary—in the same way, pretty well, as our wire fencing; that is, each end of wire passes-over a roller (a), and then round a wheel furnished with a cog.

Fig. 2

On the face of the cog-wheel are two holes (c) into which a key or winch fits, for the purpose of keeping the wire taut. The arrangement can easily be understood from our cut (fig. 2). It is necessary that brase wire be employed, and not iron, for the latter rusts, and then loses its smoothness; and unless the wires are smooth, the curtain rings will not run upon them with ease and facility, for, as we have said, the curtains are quite loose and baggy. Here is a transverse section of the roof (fig. 3),

Fig. 3

showing how the wires are fitted, and how the curtains are arranged. a, a, a, a, are sections of wires, and b, b, b, the curtains, which are so hung as to overlap one another. Herr Schaarwächter simply uses a light bamboo pole to manipulate his curtains. He pushes the curtains away at this part of the roof, or makes them cover that part. The rings on the stretched brass wire move with exceeding facility, and a more simple plan of manipulating curtains to effect light and shade cannot be conceived. “One of its advantages is that it never gets out of order,” says Herr Schaarwächter, moving the blinds backwards and forwards with his pole, to show how easily they work.

The backgrounds, of which half-a-dozen hang one behind another, are drawn out for use with the same ease. The bottom of the background does not touch the floor, for the screen is suspended from above; the top is attached to two reels, which run upon a stout wire, and may thus be brought out at the back of the sitter, or pushed in again, with a motion of the hand (see fig. 4). A light and narrow skirting board is put down to cover the small space between floor and background, or, if it is an outdoor scene, the join is covered by a fringe of grass, or something of the sort, attached to a suitable foreground. The stretched backgrounds move out and in so easily, that it is no trouble at all to change them. Most of the backgrounds are Seavey’s, but one of home manufacture, representing a piece of faded tapestry, is marvellously good. Its subject was not only in keeping with many portraits we saw, but its faded, neutral aspect afforded a striking contrast to the vigour and modelling of the Bitter. The studio is protected from direct sunlight on the outside by an upright canvas screen about ten feet high. “But I always remove it in the winter time,” says Herr Schaarwächter.

Fig. 4

We walk into the laboratory. During the past winter Herr Schaarwächter employed nothing but gelatine plates with oxalate development; but for summer work he still prefers wet collodion, except for children. Here is an assistant washing plates and albumenizing them; each sheet of glass is held under the tap, rubbed rapidly with a rag, rinsed again, and then albumenized, the solution being poured first upon one angle of the plate and drained, and then applied a second time from the opposite angle. Two whites of eggs beaten up and mixed with 8 lb. of water, to which a few drops of ammonia are added, serves for the preliminary coating of the plates. “But I do not give up gelatine plates altogether in summer,” says Herr Schaarwächter, leading us into his enlarging-room. “All my diapositives are made with gelatino-bromide. A collodion positive is not only not so delicate, but it frequently exhibits a halo round the blacks, which gelatine never shows. Moreover, as enlargements all tend to hardness, while gelatine invariably tends to softness, the latter is a good counterpoise.”

Herr Schaarwächter, however, although he produces small diapositives, does not make them in the ordinary way by placing negative and gelatine plate in contact in a printing-frame. He thinks you cannot control the exposure so well. He prefers making his transparency with the gelatine plate in a camera is the same way as the enlargement is afterwards made, giving a tolerably long exposure, and having recourse to leisurely development. A more satisfactory transparency is thus secured, he contends, for enlarging purposes, where it is very important that the utmost uniformity should exist. Herr Schaarwächter employs an enlarging apartment very similar to that we have described at Messrs. Window and Grove, and elsewhere. He is wise enough also to use a horizontal bath, swinging on a pivot, for sensitizing plates, which permits of the draining of the plate so thoroughly; indeed, on the score of economy, little waste of solution, and cleanliness, this (so-called) Burton bath is exceedingly effective.

The printing-room is an apartment fitted on one side with glass, towards which the printing-frames are turned. The frames are in tiers upon tall sloping stands, that much resemble flower-stands. The glass is not shaded, but, in case the light is too strong, the Stands are simply moved back—they ere on a sort of tramway—two or three feet, according to the judgment of the printer. The printing is said to proceed more rapidly than when a screen of tissue paper or dull glass is employed.

Herr Schaarwächter packs every negative in paper, putting half a hundred together in one pigeon-hole. Eaah negative is simply numbered consecutively, and a ledger describes them. If a negative is too large for the pigeon-hole, the searcher for it finds a piece of cardboard in place of the plate, and this cardboard tells the locality of the particular cliché. “I shall never throw away any of my negatives. I was thinking only the other day of Clearing out the bottom row of old clichés, when I received an order for forty thalers (£6) from two or three of the portraits. As that sum represents a hundredweight or so of glass, I can look upon this old part of my stock as paid for.”

Herr Schaarwächter had but just returned from a holiday on the shores of the North Sea, and he was good enough to show us a practical little outfit, made by a well-known hand (Stegemann, of Berlin), that had served him to bring back some reminiscences of his stay. To a spirit level upon his tourist camera he attached considerable importance, for he found it one. of the readiest means of levelling his camera, a point of some importance with tourists, whose small pictures have sometimes to be trimmed rather considerably to make them Square. A changing-box by Stegemann, to hold a dozen plates, Herr Schaarwächter also pronounced to be very practical. Just now Herr Schaarwächter is making a speciality of the Boudoir portrait; a single example of this is delivered to the customer for fifteen marks or fifteen Shillings. If he desires more afterwards, he may have a dozen for eighty marks.


H. Baden Pritchard, F.C.S., The Photographic Studios of Europe, London: Piper & Carter, 1882, S. 227–232