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Hawarden's technique

Isabella Grace and Clementina Maude, photography by Lady Clementina Hawarden, about 1863-4. Museum no. PH.373-1947, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Isabella Grace and Clementina Maude, photography by Lady Clementina Hawarden, about 1863-4. Museum no. PH.373-1947, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Hawarden's skilful use of technique was clearly appreciated. A review in the Photographic News (27 February 1863) said that the photographs she exhibited with the Photographic Society that year had been 'produced…with a highly bromized collodion: a very strong iron developer, sometimes containing as much as fifty grains of iron to the ounce, and with [J.H.] Dallmeyer's No. 1 Triple lens, which secures this wonderful depth of definition'.

Wet-collodion negatives

Hawarden made albumen prints from wet-collodion negatives, the most popular method in the mid 19th century. Introduced in 1851, wet-collodion negatives were widely used since the exposure time was relatively short, and the tone and focus of the resulting photograph were good.

Wet-collodion negatives were made by coating a sheet of glass with a thin film of collodion (guncotton dissolved in ether). This contained potassium iodide and was sensitised on location with silver nitrate to form light sensitive silver salts. For maximum sensitivity, the plate had to be placed in the camera and exposed while still wet, and then developed and fixed immediately. As you can tell from the strong shafts of sunlight in her photographs, Hawarden relied on light from windows rather than the artificial light sources that were beginning to be used at the time.

Albumen prints

The albumen print was invented in 1850 and was the most common type of print for the next 40 years. It was made by coating paper with a layer of egg white and salt to create a smooth surface. The paper was then coated with a layer of silver nitrate. The salt and silver nitrate combined to form light sensitive silver salts. This double-coated paper could then be placed in contact with a negative and exposed to the sun to produce a print.

A note on Hawarden's prints

You will notice that the corners of Hawarden's prints have been torn. This is because the photographs were once stuck in albums. They were removed from the albums before they came to the V&A. The torn corners make each print unique (although there are duplicates of some photographs). Generally, the state of a print reveals much about a photograph's material history.

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