Albumen was one of the most common method and the dominant process in the 19th century (around 1850’s) and it was popular because it was “user-friendly”. A man named Niepce de Saint Victor published his method that used albumen on glass, but most people complained that it was impractical for several reasons.
Niepce de Saint Victor
Louis Desire Blanquart-Evrard, a French photographer, discovered this as well and both Louis and Niepce announced their techniques around the same time.
“Photogenic Drawing - Considering that any (however trifling) improvement will not be unacceptable to those of your readers who feel an interest in this art, I have been induced to communicate the following method of preparing the paper, which, after many experiments, I find to succeed best. Wash the paper with a mixture of equal parts of the WHITE OF EGG and water, afterwards with the solution of nitrate of silver, fixing the drawing as usual with the iodide of potassium.” - H.L.
With different names of people and photographers who found egg whites to be useful, some may say that H.L. was the first to discover the albumen process, however, his name was unidentified and he had his own recipes that were not the same everyone else used nor it was the same with the recipes we use now. H.L.’s recipes did not call for chlorides, but Blanquart-Evrard added this to the recipe for albumen. While most people had their own recipes back in the time - most were about the same with a few adjustments.
Le Gray (a photographer back in their time) came up with his own recipe which was egg whites mixed with 1/5 sodium chloride. It is beaten until it is frothy and then clear liquid is removed from the mixture. Let it settle for one night then the liquid is poured in a container. You have albumen, ready to use. Most photographers placed it on a tray, get a piece of paper, and kind of just dip the paper in the albumen, on one side only. To make it sensitive to the sunlight, most photographers would put one or two coats of silver nitrate (diluted solution mixed with water). The recipes we use now compared to back then are somewhat similar, except I don’t think we leave it over night to settle, everything is done on one spot and ready for albumen coating.
Portrait of Louis Desire Blanquart-Evrard, from Wikipedia
Albumen wasn’t always used on glass plates. A man named Frederick Scott Archer, suggested that albumen was better on paper as a positive print and that collodion was better for glass plates as negatives. Collodion-Albumen became the standard and this technique was used throughout until 1895, which was pretty long for a specific technique.
Some examples of Albumen Prints:
Brig in the moonlight, marine by Gustave Le Gray (1865), from Wikipedia
Lighthouse by Bradley and Rulofson (1868)
- Sobieszek, Robert A. British Masters of the Albumen Print: A Selection of Mid-Nineteenth Century Victorian Photography. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1976. Print.
- Reilly, James M. The Albumen and Salted Paper Book: The History and Practice of Photographic Printing, 1840-1895. Rochester, NY: Light Impressions Corporation, 1980. Print.