Collodion Chloride: A Most Amazing Discovery

Posted by on Feb 17 2011 | History, Other, Photography

About twenty years ago I was looking though a pile of faded 19th century
photographs at an antique shop and I realized that there were a certain type
that were always in perfect condition. I had discovered collodion chloride
prints. Ten years later I was searching for information about collodion
papers in the 19th century journals at Eastman House and I discovered the
process was introduced by G. Wharton Simpson in the 1860s. Best of all, it
was the most archival silver based photographic paper ever manufactured. By
the 1890s, the collodion papers, then called “Aristotypes,” were extremely
popular with commercial portrait photographers who made the prints I had
originally found. Made in both glossy and matte surfaces, the paper was made
well into the 1930s in Germany and Russia.

‘Nelson Camp’, collodion-chloride print from an 8×10″  wet collodion negative by Mark Osterman

This isn’t wet collodion — collodion chloride is an emulsion process. There
isn’t any silver bath. Both the silver and chloride are mixed together and
the emulsion can be kept for years in a well sealed black bottle. When you
need to make a print, you just pour it onto the paper and let it dry in the
dark. It’s contact printed with the negative just like salt or albumen
paper. Actually, if you were disappointed when Centennial Gelatin Chloride
Printing Out Paper was discontinued a few years ago, collodion paper prints,
tones and looks the same….only it doesn’t ever fade!

For the past nine years I’ve been teaching photo conservators how this
process was made and now I’m getting ready to teach the first public
workshop on the collodion chloride printing process this March. I think
it’ll be a real revelation for the group. It’s really easy to mix the
emulsion and even easier to coat the paper. I suspect that the people we
send out there with this process under their belt will be the seed of a
whole new movement in alternative processes.

Editor’s note: Mark will be teaching a rarely-offered Collodion Chloride process class in our upcoming Photography Workshop next month.

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    Mark Osterman is the Process Historian in the Kay R. Whitmore Conservation Center at George Eastman House. Best known for his depth of knowledge in the area of collodion photography, Osterman is also internationally recognized for his research and teaching of photographic processes from Niepce heliographs to gelatin emulsions. Osterman's curriculum, once reserved for the international conservation community, is now available to the public through a series of hands-on workshops at Eastman House and other venues in the U.S. and abroad.

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