September 10, 2008

Albumen Prints: An Overview

For a little background to these overviews, see here.

History: First introduced by Louis-Desiree Blanquart-Evrard in 1850, albumen printing was the dominant photographic process for most of the second half of the nineteenth century.

Negatives: A density range of 2.0 to 2.5 is good.

Preparing the albumen: 500ml of egg whites (no yolk or white stringy bits) + 1ml glacial acetic acid + 15gm ammonium chloride + 15ml distilled water. Stir briskly until it turns into a froth. Cover container and refrigerate for 24 hrs. Remove the froth on the top and filter the liquid through cheesecloth. Age in refrigerator for a week or more.

Coating the paper: Coat by floating for 3 mins and hang to dry. To double coat, the albumen needs to be hardened. This can be done by steaming, heating to about 150F with a hot iron under a protective board, or dipping in a 500ml 70% isopropyl alcohol + 15gm ammonium chloride bath.

Sensitizing the paper: Either float, brush or use glass rod to coat with 12% silver nitrate solution under safelight. Sensitized paper does not keep well. Floating works best but results in albumen contaminating the sensitizer solution. To maintain the silver nitrate solution over a long time, add 1.5 gm kaolin per 100ml of solution. The kaolin is insoluble powder that absorbs the impurities and settles at the bottom. After every use, shake up the kaolin and let it settle overnight. Decant or siphon off clear solution before next use. Replenish the amount of solution used up with a 24% solution of silver nitrate.

Exposure: Expose until the shadows begin to bronze (maximum density) or for thinner negatives, the highlights are 1 to 1.5 stops darker than desired. Direct sun gives less contrast than diffused light.

Processing: (1) Wash 5-10mins until there is no milkiness in the running water. (Can be toned at this point). (2) Fix in 75gm sodium thiosulfate + 1gm sodium carbonate (washing soda) + 500ml water. Two fixing baths of 4mins each is recommended. (3) Immerse in 1% sodium sulfite solution for 3mins as a hypo clearing bath. (4) Wash for 30mins. Squeegee and hang to dry.