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What is an Albumen Print?

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Similar to tintypes, albumen prints were one of the early methods for creating a photograph in the 1850’s and throughout the early 1900’s as well until they were phased out.

Albumen prints were the first of its kind to be commercially used and a relatively effective way of producing a photographic print onto a paper base from a negative.

Albumen Prints

Albumen prints, commonly referred to as albumen silver prints, were invented in January of 1847 by Louis Désiré Blanquart-Evrard. The reason these types of prints are called albumen prints is because of the albumen from egg whites that is used in the process. The egg white is used during the process to help bind the photographic chemicals to the paper.

The Process

Creating an albumen print is a bit of a process, but many photographers still choose to use this method for artistic effect or as a way of practicing an old method.

Let’s take a look at the steps involved in creating an albumen print:

  1. A piece of paper, normally made out of 100% cotton, is coated with the emulsion of egg white (albumen) and salt. The paper is then dried – this allows the albumen to seal the paper and creates a glossy surface for the sensitizer to rest upon.
  2. Next, the paper is dipped into a solution of silver nitrate and water. This renders the surface sensitive to UV light.
  3. The paper then needs to be dried in complete darkness away from any UV light.
  4. The prepared paper is then placed into a frame in direct contact under a negative. The paper with the negative is then exposed to light until the image achieves the desired level of darkness.
  5. Next, the paper is bathed in sodium thiosulfate which fixes the print’s exposure, preventing any further darkening.
  6. An additional, optional step is to add a gold or selenium toning to the print which improves the photograph’s tone and stabilizes against fading.

Although it can take a little time, the process is worth it, as a beautiful albumen print is one of a kind.

Take a look at some examples of albumen prints created over the years below:

George Barnard - The New Capitol - What is an Albumen Print? - FilterGrade

(Photographer: George Barnard | The New Capitol, Columbia, S.C (1863) | Photo from the Library of Congress)

Alexander Gardner - Portrait of Ulysees S. Grant - What is an Albumen Print? - FilterGrade

(Photographer: Alexander Gardner | Portrait of Ulysses S. Grant (1865) | Photo from the Library of Congress)

Fountain, Savannah, GA - George Barnard - What is an Albumen Print? - FilterGrade

(Photographer: George Barnard | Fountain, Savannah, G.A (1866) | Photo from the Library of Congress)

The Japanese Embassy - Matthew Brady - What is an Albumen Print? - FilterGrade

(Photographer: Matthew Brady | The Japanese Embassy (1862) | Photo from the Library of Congress)

View on Silver Lake - Lawrence & Houseworth - What is an Albumen Print?

(Contributor: Lawrence & Houseworth | View on Silver Lake, Amador County (1866) | Photo from the Library of Congress)

 

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