Mark Osterman's Posts

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.

Carbon Printing Workshop: Easy to do with beautiful results

Posted by on Mar 30 2011 | Other, Photography

I first taught how to make carbon tissues and transfer pigment prints printing back when I was at George School in 1996. Imagine high school students making carbon prints! When these kids went to college and said they made carbon prints, their teachers didn’t believe them. A lot of these old processes are made out to be much more difficult than they are. In reality, it’s usually the negatives that give people the most trouble. It’s amazing to me how many experienced photographers can’t tell the difference between an over exposed and an over developed negative. Well, that’s the sort of thing I still teach when it comes to learning a printing process.

Thomas Annan, Close No. 28 Saltmarket, 1868 -1877, Carbon Print


We have a few spaces left for our upcoming carbon printing workshop  April 11-14th  and if the response from our last workshop [collodion chloride printing out emulsion] is any indication…we’re still giving the public something they can’t get anywhere else. I chose vintage carbon prints for the workshop from the photography archives last week and the work is breathtaking. Selections include original early carbon prints by Thomas Annan and the work of pictorialists Paul Lewis Anderson and Edward Steichen.

With four full days, the workshop will proceed at a leisurely pace. I am really looking forward to getting to know the interesting mix of art photographers, teachers, photo historians and the visually curious our workshops always attract.

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Daguerreotyping at Eastman House

Posted by on Mar 03 2011 | Behind The Scenes, History, Other, Photography

I’m just now packing up my head stand and posing table to take home after the daguerreotype workshop last week. We had a great group here with people from all over as usual. Mike Robinson and I haven’t taught together for years, but it was like the old days back in the mid-1990s when Mike, France and I taught the first process workshops here at the museum with Roger Watson. The images made during last week’s workshop were extraordinary. Todd Gustavson showed the group gems of the technology collection including American and European daguerreotype equipment and Joe Struble laid out an exhibit of rare daguerreotypes I had chosen the week before. The whole experience was as magical as the process.

Daguerreotype of me posing for Mike Robinson.


Workshop attendee David Vogt sitting for the camera.


 David’s Daguerreotype.


Joe Struble and attendee Paul d’Orleans amazed by the results.

Mike and I will cross alternative process paths again this summer in July. France and I will be teaching the Dawn of Photography workshop [photogenic drawings], followed by a workshop on the Wet & Dry Collodion processes at Fox Talbot Museum at Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire, England. The reunion will be complete because Roger Watson is now the curator of Fox Talbot Museum. As we’re packing up from the collodion workshop Mike will be prepping for a Daguerreotype workshop he’ll be teaching the next week.

As for me, it’s on to carbon printing next…!

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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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On-site to celebrate the 175th Anniversary of the Negative

Posted by on Aug 12 2010 | History, Photography

My wife France and I were asked to come to the Fox Talbot Museum in Lacock, England to teach ten participants from all over the world how to make Photogenic Drawings, negatives on paper sensitized with silver chloride. Yes, this is the place where 175 years ago today, the first photographic negative was invented by William Henry Fox Talbot.

Vintage salt print of Fox Talbot’s home.

Lacock Abbey as it looks today in the Cotswolds.

Today is the fourth day of the Dawn of Photography workshop being held at Lacock Abbey, Talbot’s home where he conducted his own experiments in the mid-1830s. [The abbey was also used for filming the Harry Potter movies, though this is an aside.] His early images were very colorful and not the dull brown of the later processes.

Illustrations of various kinds of salt stabilization.

Talbot used his process for making contact prints from leaves, lace and other thin objects but also made images using camera obscura as well.  A rare exhibition list of Talbot’s photogenic drawings dating August 1839 from the George Eastman House Richard and Roney Menschel Library collection gave important information regarding exactly which flowers and engravings Talbot actually used in contact with his sensitive paper. This information has allowed participants to search the grounds of the abbey for the same botanicals picked by Talbot in his original experiments.

Fox Talbot Museum curator Roger Watson has been giving tours and lectures about the history of this important site, and participants have been taking images around the grounds of the historic village of Lacock recreating the original scenes made by Talbot in the early 19th century. Special cameras and lenses were esigned that all the participants are using and will eventually take with them after the workshop.

Mousetrap cameras that were constructed for this workshop.

This evening, we are in for a special treat in– the opening reception for the exhibit, Celebrating the Negative. It’s hard to believe that we are at this amazing site conducting this workshop and commemorating this special event.

For more on our Photography Workshop series, click here.

Editor’s note:  Many thanks to Stacey VanDenburgh, Manager of the
Kay R. Whitmore Conservation Center at George Eastman House, for all her help with this entry.

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Physionotrace: Tracing the Shadow

Posted by on May 12 2010 | History, Other, Photography

We’re getting ready to start our Photography Workshops. The first one, in June, is on the different techniques of drawing by using light as applied by artists before the invention of photography. I’ve given this particular workshop many times for the conservators but now we’re going to include this in a new series for the general public.

Last year my wife France and I got a feeling for the interest in these pre-photographic techniques by teaching shadow-traced silhouette making at the f295 conference in Pittsburgh. Nearly everyone who took the workshop was an artist/teacher, including Dan Estabrook, Martha Madigan and Jessica Ferguson. It was probably the most fun we’ve ever had teaching a process and the class really enjoyed themselves. I was so surprised that we could coax photographers into a drawing workshop.

We got the physionotrace out last night and made some profiles by candle light up in our studio. It’s really the best way to experience how it was used, but it’s really difficult to document with a camera.

A physionotrace is an apparatus invented in the 18th century and used for “taking” profiles and silhouettes. It’s tied to a chair and the sitters shadow is cast onto an oiled paper screen by a single light. The operator traces the shadow with a stylus that’s connected to a pantograph. As the virtual shadow image is traced, the profile of the sitter is drawn in miniature simultaneously on a piece of paper. The entire sitting lasts about ten seconds.

People always ask how I came to make the one we use for workshops. I really wanted to use one and so I had asked around to see if anyone had ever seen a complete working example of a physionotrace, but found no leads. The only documentation I could find was the period drawing by Chretien and the engraving by Halloway. Finally I discovered a poor reproduction of an 1810 era physionotrace in a book on American Silhouettes published in the 1920s. The device was incomplete, didn’t have the pantograph, but the frame seemed like a good solid design. So, I built mine based on the frame in that book and made a pantograph in the same proportions. It worked the first time we used it, though I have to admit, mastering the technique is tricky. Since then, I’ve found two more designs that are completely different.  I’ll make working reproductions of them too in a few years.

For more on the Photo Workshops, Visit  photo-workshops

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