The History of Bromoiling
Pathway to the Bromoil Process
Joshia Wedgwood, in 1725, discovered that silver salts could record a crude image when subjected to light. In the 19th Century, Nicephore Niepce recorded an image on bitumen and was joined by Louis Daguerre who went on to invent the Daguerrotype. At about the same time Fox Talbot invented the paper negative and Herschel suggested the use of sodium thiosulphate to remove unexposed silver. Scotsman, Mongo Ponton, discovered that the chemical Potassium Bichromate ( Dichromate) was sensitive to light and in 1850, Fox Talbot discovered colloids, such as gelatine, gum and albumen, would harden when mixed with Dichromate and exposed to light. Colloids proved to be the most suitable substances in which the light sensitive chemicals and pigments could be suspended. Being viscous, it was comparatively easy to coat papers or other surfaces used for the printing processes.
These experiments led to the invention and use of the so called Pigment or Control Processes, now referred to as Alternative Printing Processes. The main ones are: Carbon, Gum, Oil and Bromoil. In all these printing techniques, to reveal the images, the above mentioned, artists' materials were used in combination with the chemicals used in conventional photography.
Stabilising the images
The early silver based photographic images were unstable and the images deteriorated. To help solve the problem, efforts were made to replace the silver with more stable substances. Toning, water-colours, painters' oils and printers' inks became the substitutes.
Artists as well as chemists adopted the new processes and provoked passionate discussions comparing photographic images, produced by photomechanical means, with handmade paintings, drawings and etchings.
The first deliberate and controlled manipulations in photography were practised by David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson as early as 1840. To create certain effects, they were making alterations on the paper negatives with pencil markings where appropriate. Later, the practitioners of the Pigment Processes realised the manipulative possibilities within their adopted medium, and extensive alterations were carried out by any available means, to enhance the image.
Alternative Printing Processes
An invention by the French photographer, Alfonso Louis Poitevin, was to become the first of the Alternative Printing Processes. He had successfully experimented with the pigment Carbon Black (soot) to replace the silver. In 1855 he patented what came to be known as the Carbon Process.
In this printing technique, the pigment Carbon Black was added to a mixture of gelatine and Dichromate. A sheet of paper was coated with it. After being left to dry in the dark, it was exposed to light under a contact negative. Depending on the amount of light the paper had received through the negative, differential hardening of the pigment carrying gelatine was induced. After exposure, the print was placed in a warm water bath to develop. The unhardened colloid would dissolve and carry away with it most of the pigment particles, whereas the hardened gelatine would retain the pigment which then formed the image. Unfortunately the early Carbon prints lacked subtle half tones. With the later Carbon Transfer Process, this became possible, but we need not go into it here.
Gum Bichromate Printing Process
A few years later, in 1858, John Pouncy introduced the Gum Bichromate Printing Process, a variant to Carbon. In place of gelatine, Gum Arabic was used as the sensitised and pigment carrying colloid. This time, to develop the print, only a cold water bath was needed. As far as artistic manipulation was concerned, Gum printing was a more flexible process than Carbon. Local development could be carried out using sometimes soft brushes or by directing a fine jet of water onto a chosen area in the image. With these manipulations unwanted pigments could be removed at will.
In 1904, more or less 50 years after the contributions by Poitevin and Pouncy, G. H. Rawlins reintroduced the Carbon, but in a modified form. By then a paper, coated with gelatine only, had become available commercially. It was used in the earlier mentioned Carbon Transfer Process. Rawlins sensitised this paper with a Dichromate solution. The sensitised paper was exposed under a contact negative of available size. During the exposure, a latent image would form within the differentially hardened gelatine. After exposure the print was washed to remove the yellow Dichromate stain. Whilst the print remained moist, to reveal the image, Rawlins applied an oil-based printing ink using a roller. As oil and water do not mix, the ink would be repelled from the softer, water-swollen areas, but adhere to the more hardened gelatine. Thus the Oil Printing Process, the forerunner of Bromoil, was born.
Three years later, in 1907, a theoretical supposition was published by E. J. Wall, which stated that the gelatine in a silver based photograph could also be conditioned for pigmenting. However, the photograph would have to be treated with certain chemicals first. To remove the silver based image Copper Sulphate and for the differential hardening of the gelatine Potassium Dichromate solutions were used. These were to be the two main agents for conditioning the photographic paper to accept oil based printing inks. Wall stressed the advantage of this technique. The size of the print would no longer have to depend on the size of an available contact negative. The image could be enlarged directly on the silver based photographic paper of any size. To reveal the image, the inking could be carried out as for oil printing.
In the same year, Wall's theory was put into practice by C. Welbourne Piper using the commercially available papers. For the treatment of the paper reliable chemical formulae were established. Sometimes small variations in the formula were recommended by other practitioners.
Introduction of Brushes
Soon brushes replaced the earlier inking tool, the roller. The use of brushes gave much greater control during inking. Textural variety could be introduced, depending on what kind of brushes were used. With the brushwork deliberate local tonal alterations could be achieved, offering further, almost unlimited scope for the interpretation of a subject. Thus, the Bromoil Printing Process, the most flexible of all the Control Processes, as bromoilists would like to believe, had finally evolved.
In the quest for further technical and artistic development, experimentation never ceased. In the Bromoil Process the use of coloured inks became popular. It has been stated that in 1911 Robert Demachy introduced the Bromoil Transfer Process. As printing presses became available, the transfer technique was practised by many workers and soon considered to be the ultimate goal.
From time to time attempts at introducing a "hybrid" have taken place. The best known, perhaps, are: Oleobrom, Bromaloid and Bromotype, the originators being F. J. Shepherd, F. F. Renwick, G. L. Hawkins and B. Whiting respectively.
As can be expected, the last mentioned techniques were considered and recommended by the inventors as either superior, easier, more beautiful, more advantageous and so on, than the straightforward Bromoil and Oil Processes. Alas, these alternatives never gained a permanent footing, rising and falling like shooting stars in the sky. However, in the latter years, bromoilists, with inquisitive minds, have put these to the test again, but nothing more than that.
Commercial Manufacture of Materials
Lastly, a brief mention must be made of some of the companies involved in the manufacture of materials for the Bromoil Printing Process.
Griffin of Kingsway, London, marketed the paper for Rawlins' Oil Process. The Autotype Company was manufacturing the un-sized gelatine paper, mainly for the Carbon Transfer Process, but equally suitable for Oil printing. From C. Robertson & Co. and James Sinclair one could purchase brushes, pigments and the specially prepared inks. Sinclair was also selling the uniquely designed Bromoil Transfer press.
In the early days papers, in a great variety of colours, surface textures and gelatine swelling characteristics, came from: Ilford, Kodak, Agfa, Elliot & Sons of Barnet, Wellington & Ward Ltd. and Griffin, who named their paper amusingly "Pigmoil". Some papers were marketed exclusively as Bromoil papers.
The recommended paper for use in bromoiling is Kentmere Art Document G2. Kentmere has been absorbed by Ilford/Harman who have no plans at present to continue making this non-supercoated fibre based paper. The Hon. Sec. of the Bromoil Circle has lobbied Ilford/Harman and if there is sufficient support they may produce a suitable alternative. Some of the present range of Ilford papers are useful but not nearly as easy for beginners.
During the last ten years, to find alternative materials, practitioners have been obliged to experiment with papers that have been supplied by East European companies. Should the complete lose of suitable papers for the process happen in the future, bromoilists would have to prepare Art papers, of their own choice, by coating them with light sensitive emulsions. Who knows, this might just offer the elusive something extra one is always hoping and looking for in the creation of a bromoil image.
Kirk Toft LRPS and Maija McDougal FRPS