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Photographic Printing Techniques of the 1850s: Examples by Tripe's Contemporaries

William Henry Fox Talbot
British, 1800–1877
The Boulevards of Paris
, 1843
salted paper print from calotype negative
National Gallery of Art, Washington, New Century Fund, 1997.97.4

In 1839 the British chemist, linguist, archaeologist, and inventor William Henry Fox Talbot announced his process of photography to a startled world. The precursor of virtually all modern photography before the digital age, Talbot’s method created negatives from which numerous positive prints could be made. He subsequently refined his process for making negatives, which he called calotypes. Five steps were needed to transform a sheet of smooth writing paper into a negative ready for printing, each one requiring a sophisticated understanding of the chemical processes involved. Consequently calotypes were favored by artists, not commercial practitioners for whom the complex and variable process was not cost-effective.

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David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson
Scottish, 1821–1848; and Scottish, 1802–1870
Colinton Manse and Weir
, 1843–1847
salted paper print from calotype negative
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Paul Mellon Fund, 2007.29.26

Because Talbot’s calotype process made negatives on uncoated paper, which allowed the light-sensitive materials to be absorbed into the paper fibers, the resulting prints lacked fine detail. Although some considered this a disadvantage in comparison to the cool precision of daguerreotypes, David Octavius Hill and his associate Robert Adamson preferred calotypes for their subtle tonal range and slightly atmospheric effects.

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Baron A. Fays
French, active 1850s
Landscape with Trees under Snow
, c. 1852
salted paper print from waxed-paper negative
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation through Robert and Joyce Menschel, 2001.47.1

Photographers of the 1850s used a variety of methods to achieve a pleasing color and rich tonality. Tripe toned his prints with gold, which resulted in a purplish brown color. Scientific analysis suggests that others, like Baron A. Fays, a French amateur photographer, used a chemical processing method to achieve the neutral bluish blacks seen here.

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Jean-Baptiste Frénet
French, 1814–1889
Portrait of Woman and Child
, 1855
salted paper print from collodion glass negative
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Robert and Joyce Menschel Fund and The Sarah and William L Walton Fund, 2007.92.4.1

Frénet, a student of the French painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, began to photograph in the early 1850s and made intimate, spontaneous portraits of family and friends. He used a method of making negatives on glass coated with collodion (guncotton dissolved in ether) invented in 1851 by the Englishman Frederick Scott Archer. Because of its faster exposure times and sharper definition, collodion was used by most photographers from the late 1850s through the 1870s. See a video of the collodion process for more information on this type of print.

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Jean-Baptiste Frénet
French, 1814–1889
Portrait of Woman and Child
, 1855
salted paper print from collodion glass negative
National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Nola Foundation, 2007.92.3

Although photographers in the 1850s usually waxed their paper negatives to achieve greater detail, it was less common for prints to be waxed. Here, the thick wax coating gives a warmer tone and glossier surface than seen in the previous unwaxed salted paper print.

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Eugène Cuvelier
French, 1837–1900
Marsh at Piat (Belle-Croix Plateau)
, c. 1863
salted paper print from paper negative
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon and Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 2006.133.63

As they experimented to achieve different aesthetic results, photographers in the 1850s and early 1860s occasionally made both salted paper and albumen prints from the same negative. With its softer focus and matte surface, this salted paper print presents an atmospheric, romantic vision, while the albumen print in the next slide has greater detail and more clearly articulated forms, allowing for a closer examination of the scene. Both objectives were highly prized by artists like Cuvelier, who sought to capture the different moods and specificity of nature in the photographs he made in the forest of Fontainebleau southwest of Paris.

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Eugène Cuvelier
French, 1837–1900
Marsh at Piat (Belle-Croix Plateau)
, c. 1863
albumen print from paper negative
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon and Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 2006.133.64

In an albumen print, the light-sensitive silver salts rest primarily on the surface. However, when photographers greatly dilute the albumen with water (a practice Tripe usually followed), the light-sensitive materials can also be partly absorbed into the paper fibers. The resulting print then has less definition and lower gloss. This print has slightly more surface sheen than Tripe’s photographs, suggesting that Cuvelier may have used a less diluted albumen solution. But it does not have as much gloss as the photographs by William Bell or F. Jay Haynes (slides 9 and 10), which were printed on commercially manufactured albumen paper.

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Claude Joseph Désiré Charnay
French, 1828–1915
Madagascan Woman and Her Children
, 1863
albumen print from collodion glass negative
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon, 2006.131.3

When Charnay, a French-born New Orleans schoolteacher, archaeologist, and photographer, spent three months on the island of Madagascar off the coast of Africa in 1863, he used collodion glass negatives to record the local inhabitants. He printed these negatives on albumen paper, which further increased their detail.

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William Bell
American, born England, 1830–1910
Rain Sculpture, Salt Creek Canon, Utah
, 1872
albumen print from collodion glass negative
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon and Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 2006.133.33

By the mid-1860s, commercially produced albumen paper all but eclipsed salted paper. Instead of mixing chemicals according to their own recipes and hand coating their papers, photographers increasingly relied on manufactured albumen printing paper. Although their results were more consistent, their prints lacked the individuality of early hand-coated salted paper or albumen prints. A large industry grew up around the manufacture of albumen paper, employing thousands of workers — mainly women — who broke and separated eggs, beat the whites, and floated the paper on the albumen solution one sheet at a time. The consumption of eggs was also enormous: it was estimated that by 1875 approximately 800 million eggs were imported into Great Britain, most of which were used for the production of albumen paper.

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F. Jay Haynes
American, 1853–1921
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Falls
, c. 1884
albumen print from collodion glass negative
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon, 2006.131.4

The thick coating of albumen on this paper, with its high gloss, is typical of commercially made albumen paper from the 1860s through the 1880s. Careful examination of this work reveals that Haynes retouched the riverbank to emphasize the dramatic rush of the water over the falls and down the river.

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