Philip H. Delamotte, 'Crystal Palace'

Philip H. Delamotte, 'Crystal Palace'

Philip H. Delamotte (1820-89)
'Crystal Palace'
1854
Albumen print, from a wet collodion negative
Museum no. 39.294

The Photograph

This image is an example of an albumen print made from a wet collodion negative. The albumen print was invented by Louis-Désiré Blanquart-Evrard (1802-72), and until about 1890 it was the most prevalent type of print.

Identifying the Technique

This photograph can be identified as an albumen print by the slight sheen on the top surface. An albumen print can sometimes be identified as being produced from a wet-collodion negative.

The easiest way to do so is to find white dots on the print (such as those in the lower right corner of this image), where dust or other impurities have stuck into the collodion. Occasionally, when the collodion has been poured unevenly onto the glass plate, the print can appear streaky, reflecting the varying thickness of the collodion. The collodion process produces crisp, grainless prints that have more detail than the calotype and generally have a much richer tone.

The Process of an Albumen Print

An albumen print was made by floating a sheet of thin paper on a bath of egg white containing salt, which had been whisked, allowed to subside, and filtered. This produced a smooth surface, the pores of the paper having been filled with albumen. After drying, the albumenised paper was sensitised by floating it on a bath of silver nitrate solution or by brushing on the same solution. The paper was again dried, but this time in the dark. This doubly coated paper was put into a wooden, hinged-back frame, in contact with a negative, usually made of glass but occasionally of waxed paper.

After printing, which sometimes only required a few minutes but could take an hour or more, the resultant proof, still unstable, was fixed by immersing it in a solution of hyposulfite of soda ('hypo') and water and then thoroughly washed to prevent further chemical reactions. The print was then dried. Gordon Baldwin, 'Looking at Photographs', J. Paul Getty Museum, 1991

The Process for a Wet Collodion Negative

The wet collodion process was invented in 1848 by F. Scott Archer (1913-57) and published by him in 1851. It was prevalent from 1855 to about 1881. Wet-collodion-on-glass negatives were valued because the transparency of the glass produced a high resolution of detail in both the highlights and shadows of the resultant prints and because exposure times were short, ranging from a few seconds to a few minutes, depending on the amount of light available.

Collodion is guncotton (nitrocellulose) dissolved in ethyl alcohol and ethyl ether. In the wet-collodion process, collodion was poured from a beaker onto a glass plate tilted to quickly produce an even coating. When the collodion had set but not dried, the plate was made light sensitive by bathing it in a solution of silver nitrate, which combined with the potassium iodide in the collodion to produce light-sensitive silver iodide. The plate in its holder was then placed in the camera for exposure while still wet - hence the name of the process. After exposure the plate was immediately developed in a solution. Gordon Baldwin, 'Looking at Photographs', J. Paul Getty Museum, 1991

Photographers Who Have Used This Technique

Julia Margaret Cameron (albumen prints from wet collodion negatives)
Benjamin Brecknell Turner (albumen prints from calotype negatives)
Charles Thurston Thompson (albumen prints from wet collodion negatives)
Francis Frith
Clementina, Lady Hawarden

 

This photograph can be found in Print Room Box 12.