Andrew Dickson White Architectural Photographs Collection

Troyes Cathedral Outer Gallery Passage

Gustave Lancelot, Troyes Cathedral Outer Gallery Passage, ca. 1865-1886. Albumen print photograph. 15/5/3090.00106. Andrew Dickson White Architectural Photographs Collection, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
Historic Photographic Processes
The Albumen Print

Invented in 1850 by Louis Désiré Blanquart-Evrard, the albumen print became the dominant photographic printing process for nearly fifty years. Most of the albumen prints in the A. D. White Architectural Photographs Collection were produced between 1865 and 1895.

Technical definition:
First, a thin piece of paper is coated with an emulsion containing both egg white (albumen) and salt (usually sodium chloride). A subsequent immersion in a bath of silver nitrate renders the paper light-sensitive. The paper is next dried in the dark, then placed in a frame under a glass negative (most often, it was a glass negative with a collodion emulsion) and exposed in direct sunlight until the image achieves the proper level of darkness (from a few minutes to an hour, depending on light conditions). Albumen prints are thus contact printed, or placed in direct contact with the negative. Since the image emerges as a direct result of exposure to light and without the aid of a developing solution, the albumen print is a Printed-Out (rather than Developed-Out) photograph. A bath of sodium thiosulfate then fixes the print’s exposure and prevents further darkening. Finally, gold toning improves the photograph’s tone and helps protect it from fading.

General Attributes
During the first stage of preparation, the viscous albumen coating fills in the pores of the paper and produces an even, slightly glossy surface. Because the albumen covers the paper fibers so smoothly, the process is particularly well suited to capturing fine detail. On very close examination, however, the surface may be covered with tiny fissures, as the albumen layer sometimes cracks as it dries. Although albumen prints are highly prone to fading, the general tone is yellowish, with cream-colored highlights and deep chocolate brown shadows. They can range from reddish-brown to purplish-blue.

Dates
1855-1920 (although most albumen prints in the A. D. White Architectural Photographs Collection were produced between 1865 and 1895)

 
Primary Characteristics of Albumen Prints

• Silver print (photo-sensitive element is silver)
• 2-layer structure (paper support & albumen layer)
• Made primarily from glass plate negatives with collodion emulsion
• Usually mounted on paper or board to prevent curling
• Red-brown or purple image tone
• cracking and yellowing of binder
• Surface gloss
• Cannot produce true black and white tones

Details

The A. D. White Project is funded by a grant from the
Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation
and by a gift from Mr. Patrick A. Gerschel.

The participation of the Cornell Insititute for Digital Collections
has been funded by a gift from Mr. Arthur Penn.

Read a press release about the grant
and the collection

 
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This page last updated July 1, 2002