Now into its second year of trading, Harman technology Limited can look back over a period of unprecedented growth and success. Following the acquisition in February 2005 of the Ilford black-and-white photographic business, premises and name from the receivers of the old Ilford Imaging group, Harman, named after the founder of the Ilford business, Alfred Harman, has grown exponentially to its present position among the major companies of the global photographic and imaging arena.
Whilst Harman has been developing other aspects of business which can be derived from the highly sophisticated plant at its Mobberley, UK, headquarters, ranging from emulsion coating, aqueous crystal growth, dispersions, slurries and solutions, to specialist desalination and surface conversions on crystals, its main areas of expansion has been the Ilford Photo division.
In many ways, Ilford Photo has echoed the progress of Alfred Harman who was part of the pioneering stage of photography, as we know it today. In 1862, at the age 21, Harman was running his own professional photography business, having been one of the early exponents of William Fox Talbot's negative/positive printing (Calotype) process.
Although Fox Talbot's experiments and developments had taken place some 20 years previously, it was only after the Great Exhibition in 1851 that restrictions on their further enhancement enforced by Fox Talbot's patents were lifted, thereby enabling others to progress their own lines of development. It is likely that it was at this time when the young Harman took an interest and began his own experimentation.
It was in 1879 when Harman moved from photography to manufacturing printing plates and other photographic materials, setting up in the basement of a house in the then rural village of Ilford , now a busy London suburb, producing dry gelatin plates.
From very basic beginnings - Harman's secret emulsion formula being applied via a teapot - the business grew as interest in photography mushroomed, and it moved into purpose built premises within four years: this was the famous Britannia Works which was later renamed Ilford Limited.
It was at this time that the company produced a gelatin chloro-bromide paper under the brand name 'Alpha'. This was a major turning point, and the product continued until it was phased out after the introduction of 'Plastika' in 1939. Plastika was also a long-lived product, running until the 1960s.
Meanwhile, Ilford Limited grew as photography became more popular, and the early part of the 20th century saw the organization take over many of the other companies in the field and spread its business around the world.
By the end of WW2, all companies under the Ilford umbrella were fully integrated, and the old brand names Imperial, Gem, Illingworth and Selo were dropped, apart from the continued use of Selo in Selochrome film.
Since that time, the company has continued its specialization in the global black-and-white arena which progressed well until the onset of digital imaging started to raise doubts about the future of analogue photography, and all traditional sectors of the industry began to feel the chill wind of 'progress' biting. The company became involved in the digital printing movement, but was unable to compensate quickly enough for the dramatic downfall of film-based photography. As a consequence, the organization went into receivership in 2004.
However, a firm belief in the potential of black-and-white photography encouraged a team of Ilford managers to combine in an attempt to buy out the UK operation from the receivers and set up in business to pick up the 126-year-old legend and take it forward to a new future.
So it was that the 'magnificent six', as the managers, now the board of directors of Harman technology Limited, became known, came to terms with the receivers to buy the plant and offices at Mobberley, along with the Ilford name, all of which was completed in February 2005.
Since that momentous occasion, the progress and commercial success of Harman technology around the world in all of the markets where Ilford black-and-white products were previously sold has vindicated the belief of its directors in the potential of the company and its long-term future.
Much effort has been put into re-integrating the company and the Ilford Photo name into the worldwide black-and-white photographic community, with competitions, promotions, conference and photographic event sponsorships, as well as an extensive program of direct assistance to the world of photographic students and their colleges/universities.