The Revival of Gelatin Emulsion Making

Posted by on Mar 25 2013 | Photography

Coating film

We’ve been preparing for this workshop for two months now. My research assistants Chris Holmquist and Nick Brandreth and I just finished our first public workshop in making, coating, shooting and processing gelatin emulsions. Ron Mowrey, ex Kodak emulsion engineer, was also there to answer any theoretical questions.

Haven, Nick, Joe and Dave (1)

I designed the formula back in 2004 as a basic 1880 type emulsion used for gelatin dry plates negatives. It’s very much like what George Eastman’s chemists would have made.

We had seven attendees during the four day workshop and we’ll have six more come to the second session. The first day included an illustrated lecture on the history and chemistry and then we demonstrated how to make an emulsion in daylight to give everyone a chance to photograph each step. After that we divided into two groups and they each made batches of silver bromide gelatin emulsion.

Joe Gelbro Workshop (1)

On the second day we coated 4×5” test plates, exposed them in the George Eastman House gardens and processed them in the darkrooms. The next morning we evaluated the negatives, looked at amazing original prints in the photograph collection and rare emulsion making equipment in the technology collection. We ended the day by coating more plates.

Nick additionI (1)

The third day we spent most of the time shooting and processing plates. In the late afternoon we coated plates for shooting the following morning. On the final day we shot and processed in the morning and at lunch evaluated the plates and Nick scanned them for reference. We went out and shot a group portrait …on our emulsion. Chris ended the workshop with a demonstration of coating the emulsion on paper and film.

Emulsion Group I 2013

This wasn’t the first time gelatin emulsion making has been offered to the public, but given the scope of what the group learned, what they saw and what they produced, it was a landmark workshop. We hope that the interest in emulsion making and shooting will grow like it did after we taught the first public workshops in collodion here at the museum back in the 90s.


More information about our photo process workshops here

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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.

    3 comments for now

    3 Responses to “The Revival of Gelatin Emulsion Making”

    1. Fascinating, very valuable workshop. I wish it would be within reach of a normal consumer to do something like this, imagine if you could make your own negative film..

      26 Mar 2013 at 8:04 am

    2. FWIW, in 1979 in Ronald Francis’s emulsion-making course at RIT, students had to obtain an orthochromatic emulsion speed of (iirc) “ASA 100″ for a passing grade.

      26 Mar 2013 at 8:13 am

    3. dawn

      heck yeah, I would love to do this. will be looking for the next series of workshops.

      26 Mar 2013 at 10:45 am