Presented by Louis Désiré Blanquart-Évrard (1802-1872) to the French Academy of Science in May 1850, the albumen print process is derived from the salted print technology. It enjoyed considerable success with photographers between 1850 and 1900. This enthusiasm stemmed from the aesthetic qualities of this new technique, which offered more precise definition of the image, greater contrast and a wider breadth of shades than the processes in use at the time. This handmade print is obtained by contact with the negative, being a printing out process, which needs a long exposure time.
Albumen papers are made as follows: a high quality thin sheet of paper is floated on a bath containing a mixture of sodium or ammonium chloride and albumen (beaten and decanted egg white). Once dry, the albuminised paper is sensitized by floatation on a silver nitrate solution, immediately prior to exposure. It is then exposed under the negative in a printing frame as soon as possible after sensitization, as its photosensitive properties do not last long. Exposure may last between several minutes and approximately one hour, depending on the brightness. The image is formed by a very fine orange-brown silver grain. At this point, it is generally toned, usually in a bath of gold chloride, which imbues it with colder tones, from reddish-brown to black depending on the precise composition of the gold bath. This operation dramatically improves preservation of the print, by reducing its chemical sensitivity. The toned proof is then fixed in a bath of sodium thiosulphate. Due to the delicate nature of the paper, in order to prevent crinkling or curling, in the majority of cases, the prints produced are mounted on a card backing sheet.
Visual glossary of photographic techniques © ARCP / Mairie de Paris, 2013