Black and white portrait photography.

Herrman Sylwander, Tora Teje in Inom lagens gränser, 1914

Photographic Processes and Materials around 1900

In 1888, Kodak launched the first roll-film hand camera. It revolutionized the market and turned photography into something everyone could enjoy. The specially constructed cameras were sent back to the factory where the pictures were processed. In 1900, Kodak introduced the popular Brownie, a classic box camera.

Another aspect of the increased interest in and use of photographs was that mass produced pictures were now easy to publish in books, volumes of prints and magazines. One example is photogravure, but there were many other processes. The pictorialists used various processing methods and materials, some of which were closer to printmaking and painting, and they avoided regular photographic materials. The craft of making photographs was important, which was in line with an interest in and revival of older techniques as industrialism gained momentum during the Jugend period.

Professional photographers engaged in portrait photography and took on other commissions for their customers. Among the most prominent pictorialists, many had second jobs. The tension between, or the different preconditions for photographers who embraced a more artistic form of expression and those who were forced to earn a living from selling their photographs is relevant to this day. There were many conflicts between members of Fotografiska Föreningen (the Photographers’ Association) – which to begin with only accepted amateurs – and the industry association Svenska Fotografers Förbund (the Association of Professional Photographers). At the same time, there are many examples of contacts and collaborations between different types of photographers around the turn of the last century.

Terminology was often translated from German and English, and in older literature you often find processes described in Swedish as gummitryck (gum print), pigmenttryck (pigment print) or oljetryck (oil print). However, the process is not strictly “printing”; the images were developed on light-sensitive paper. Instead of using the most common type of photographic paper with light-sensitive coating of silver salts in gelatine or albumin, the pictorialists worked with other light-sensitive solutions. The image was often contact printed under a negative, which resulted in a picture with the same dimensions as the negative. The pictorialists’ images are characterized by soft focus and often a grainy, print-like texture in hues that go from earthy browns to strong reds and blues.

Carbon Print

A pigment, potassium bichromate and gelatine emulsion on thin paper is subjected to natural light in contact with a negative. The image is formed with the help of pigment in the desired colour. After exposure, the image is transferred to a new paper. This is the original. The image stands out in clear relief and is reversed, which can be corrected by repeating the transfer process onto a new paper. The tone is often dark brown or black, but it varies depending on the type of pigment used. Factory-made paper by Bühler and Höchheimer were sensitized in alcohol. This process is called carbon print, especially when it features black pigment. It was in use between 1864 until the end of the 1930s.

Photography by John Hertzberg.
John Hertzberg, No title, 1903. Gum Bichromate Print.

Gum Bichromate Print

The gum bichromate process was invented in 1894. It is achieved by applying a solution of pigment, potassium bicharbonate and gum arabic to paper. The components are mixed in water and brushed on. When the coat has dried, it is light-sensitive, and the areas under the negative that are not exposed to light is stabilized. The rest is rinsed off in water. The colour range is very limited. The motif is often built up through multiple coats, erasures and applications of colour. The images are generally monochrome, reminiscent of charcoal or pastels. It is necessary to use a coarse-grained or uneven paper for the emulsion to adhere, which enhances the graphic qualities of the image. Custom-made paper for this method was marketed by Höchheimer, Bühler and Fresson.

Photography by Olof Sager-Nelson.
Ture Sellman, Landskap, ca 1913.

Oil Print

An emulsion consisting of potassium bichromate and gelatine is applied to paper and exposed to light. It results in an almost invisible gelatine image in relief. The gelatine absorbs and repels greasy pigments, which can be fixed by means of a rubber roller or brush. This method gives a grainy image that resembles art prints and drawings.

Black and white portrait photography.
Ebba-Lisa Roberg, No title, 1927. Bromoil Print.

Bromoil Print

Colour pigments on a silver, potassium bichromate and gelatine emulsion on paper. A silver bromide image on paper is sensitized by means of potassium bichromate with an addition of copper sulphate and potassium bromide, then fixer is added. The image is soaked in water, and a gelatine relief is produced, which can be coloured multiple times by brushing or rolling on greasy ink. The tone is determined by the pigments in the ink. A variation is achieved when the wet, tinted gelatine relief is pressed against a paper and the ink is transferred. The image is reversed with a matt finish and pressure marks from the original print. This method was used between 1907 and the 1940s.

Black and white photograph with thre persons.
Uno Falkengren, Nöd, 1917.

Platinum Print

A paper is given a coat of a potassium chloropatinate and iron oxalate. It is then exposed to daylight through a negative. The image is developed as potassium oxalate dissolves the iron salts and transform the platinum salts to metallic platinum embedded in the paper fibres. This process offers few opportunities for manual manipulation. Platinum prints are characterised by a smooth, neutral greyscale. Platinum was relatively inexpensive before the First World War, and prepared papers were readily available. Today, platinum is used in combination with palladium. The method was used as far back as in 1873.

Black and white photography.
Gösta Hübinette, Forntida, 1928. Gelatine Silver Print.

Gelatine Silver Print

The most common form of black and white photography in the 20th century. A photo paper with a coating of light-sensitive silver halogens in gelatine are exposed and developed. There are many varieties of this process with different texture and glossiness, dynamic range and contrast. The result depends on the types of paper, developer and additive tones that are used.


Colour pigment on paper. A paper base coated in potassium bichromates in gelatine are exposed to UV light in contact with a transparent positive. The gelatine coating is thereby stabilised and is then transferred face down to a copper plate. When ink is applied to the plate, it adheres to the etched areas after which the image is printed on paper in a printing press. Photogravures have a clearly defined depression from the edges of the plate, and each print is an original. Shadows are similar to charcoal pigment and highlights match the colour of the paper. This method is classified as a photomechanical print and is not in fact a true photograph. It has been used since the 1880s.


Håkan Petersson, ”Photographic materials”, Another Story. Photography from the Moderna Museet Collection, ed. Anna Tellgren, Stockholm: Moderna Museet and Göttingen: Steidl, 2011, pp. lxi–lxiii.

Pär Rittsel and Rolf Söderberg, ”Konstnärstidens metoder”, Den svenska fotografins historia 1840–1940, Stockholm: Bonnier Fakta Bokförlag AB, 1983, p. 240–241.

Lena Johannesson, Den massproducerade bilden. Ur bildindustrialismens historia, Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell Förlag AB, 1978.

Impressionist Camera. Pictorial Photography in Europe, 1889–1918, ed. Philip Prodger, London/New York: Merrell Publishers Limited, 2006, pp. 322–324.

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