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In this process, the ink is deposited on a partially bleached matrix, the resulting image being a mix of silver print and ink.

In the bromoil process, a silver image is bleached, and simultaneously the gelatin is tanned proportionnally to the amount of silver contained. Finally the print is fixed, washed and dried. After this, the print is soaked in tepid water, which causes a swelling of the gelatin. After removal of the excess water, an oily ink can be deposited on the print with a brush or a brayer. Less silver in an area of the image means less tanning, more water absorption and more repelling of the oily ink. This way, an image can be formed, where silver content is progressively replaced by ink.

Using several layers of ink of different stiffness, and working selectively on specific areas of the print, the artist has full controll over the image that is built up progressively. This was one the favorite processes of the pictorialists during the first half of the twentieth century. Today, there undoubtely is a revival of the process. The oil process used a paper coated with a layer of gelatin sensitized with potassium dichromate.

Performance art - Monoskop

Instead of potassium, ammonium can be used. The paper becomes light-sensitive while drying, which has to be done in total darkness. This is a contact process, requiring a negative of the same size as the final print. Ultraviolet light is required, and the paper has to be exposed to the sun or special UV lamps. The result is a matrix, ready to be inked exactly in the same way as a bromoil.

The Art and Practice of Silver Printing

The inked print may be the final product, or can be used as a printing plate, to transfer the image on a different type of paper. Originally, several special bromoil papers were manufactured. Those papers being more sensitive than those for the oil process, it became possible to expose them under the enlarger. They were coated with a rather thick, unprotected layer of gelatin.

None of them survived, and many current photographic papers are not really suited for bromoil, mainly because excessive supercoating might hamper the swelling of the gelatine. Recently, some papers specifically designed for bromoil, such as Bromoprint and Bergger Brom did reappear. All those papers are non-supercoated. Some other baryta papers, although being supercoated, can be used, especially in their matte finish.

It is recommended to avoid excessive contrast — deep black and pure whites. It often is advised to use about one grade softer paper, and to overexpose it by more or less one stop. That way, a maximum of detail is kept in the highlights as well as in the shadows, which compensates the loss of detail during the inking.

The print has to be completely developped. Fast, surface-acting developers are less suited for this. The fix should not contain any hardener, as this will hinder the swelling. The simplest and also most efficient formula is to take a solution of gr.

Performance art

For preserving purposes, small quantities of potassium bisulphite or boric acid might be added rather than sodium bisulphite, as the latter might contain salts hardening the gelatin. The print has to washed thoroughly, in running water a print washer for baryta papers might be useful. The use of a washing aid, often referred to as hypo-clear, is advisable.

The washing should take from three quarters to an hour. This bath will eliminate the metallic silver formed under the action of light, and simultaneously will harden the gelatin proportionnally to the quantity of silver being eliminated.

The Art and Practice of Silver Printing (Perfect Library)

The print is kept in this bath up to three times the time needed for the print to clear. If the print stays there for too long, the gelatin will get a uniform tanning, which will make the inking difficult. Rather they were working prints made for publication for magazines and newspapers. These are working historical objects.

150 Years in the Stacks

As a connoisseur collector you can get really excited about them. Look at the object. You can really enjoy the thing.


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They have a huge premium for the right collector. Furthermore, vintage prints are expected to have flaws. Prior to being here at Sothebys, I worked for eleven years in galleries. If you saw a vintage print in perfect condition, alarm bells go off. Firstly, oh how I wish there were more vintage pieces! But the truth is, as stated above, Harold made working prints for magazines. I hope whoever bought those back then understand their value now!

To be covered in the next blogpost. Ironically, the practice of issuing limited editions increased the supply of photographic prints, notes Stephen Perloff, editor of The Photo Review. Photographers used to print as needed, usually only a few images at a time, he explains.


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  4. Once they started printing entire editions, a lot of prints got made, but many never sold. When the trend toward creating editions began, photographers created edition sizes of 50 or Nowadays the number is generally much smaller. When Harold began creating editions in the mid s, the size was declared at 20, but in most cases only 10 or 5 of each image were ever printed. In his case, it was a good idea to create editions since it offered him the opportunity print imagery never before printed, leaving behind a broader selection of imagery and signed prints from which collectors can choose.

    In his case, the printed later prints actually sell for more than the vintage ones. That seems to make perfect sense to me!