The Gelatin Silver Process – Photographic Processes Series – Chapter 10 of 12

The Gelatin Silver Process – Photographic Processes Series – Chapter 10 of 12

With gelatin silver materials you start to get manufactured photographic paper, manufactured
film. Once it became cheap and ubiquitous it changed our relationship to photography
fundamentally. Everybody not only had been the subject of a
photograph but had made photographs themselves. In the middle of the 19th century nearly all processes that involved the use of silver
nitrate were made in a two step process. Having a one step process would be infinitely
easier. And so, unlike say the wet collodion process
where you pour the collodion onto the plate and it has a
bromide and then you take that plate and dip it into silver
nitrate. Emulsion photography puts the bromide and the
silver into the same solution. It was a combination of experiments done by
several different people but for the most part it’s an English invention. Gelatin emulsions are made by taking gelatin like the Jello you buy in the store today and you put the gelatin into a container of
water. The gelatin is allowed to swell. The swollen gelatin is melted. you then pour in the bromide pour in the silver nitrate and stir the solution. So now you have silver bromide in hot gelatin. This is an emulsion. Now in the early 1880’s most of the gelatin dry
plates the glass plates were coated by pouring the hot gelatin onto a hot glass plate. Very much in a way that a collodion plate would
be coated by hand. Once you have a dry plate now you don’t have to take a dark room into the
field. You don’t have to develop the plate before it
dries. You can take a package of plates, and you can go on a trip expose the plates and then weeks later come back to the comfort of
your own dark room and develop the plate and that’s an important
discovery. The same emulsion was applied to paper. These are examples of gelatin silver prints. The gelatin silver print was first introduced in the
late 1800’s The gelatin silver print is a developing out
process rather than a printing out process. Printing out is when light strikes an object and you actually see it visibly change. Developing out, on the other hand,
is a latent image and what that means is that you just need a little
bit of light exposing this material but you don’t see a visible change until you put that material into another chemical which brings out the invisible image. You would start with a much smaller negative than with a contact printing method. So at the beginning of photography a negative has to be the same size as the print you want to
make and that’s because they’re contact printed. The negative is actually touching the paper that
becomes the final print. As photography progresses we become able to
enlarge a negative. You can put it into an enlarger and make a bigger
print It’s no longer contact printed. In 1888 George Eastman came out with the
Kodak camera You no longer had to be a professional and know
the chemistry you could actually do it yourself. It sounds really simple, you know, just send it to us you press the button, we do the rest and suddenly invents an entire new industry. This is the oldest known Kodak camera. It’s called the Kodak. It’s serial number 6, meaning it was the 6th one
made. After all 100 exposures have been made, the
camera would be shipped back to Rochester for
processing and reloading Shutter release was on the sideStill works, not bad for a camera made in 1888. Because the camera was smaller and easy to
carry now People took their cameras everywhere. It opened up a field of photography for the
general public. For anyone to capture all the different
moments of their life. The basic aesthetic of a gelatin silver
print is a smooth surface because the gelatin sits on top of the paper, and
the gelatin is what holds the image material in it. As opposed to the salted paper print where the image material was sinking
into the fibers of the paper. The gelatin silver process was the dominant
photographic process of the 20th century. The vast majority of the analog photographs that we are familiar with were made with this process. The clarity and sharpness of the black and white gelatin silver print became the norm for
photojounalism. It was the standard way that information from far
away was produced and sent to be published in
newspapers and magazines. The process became forever linked with the
documentary style of photography that was established by photographers like
Lewis Hine, and FSA photographers such as Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans. Silver gelatin allows you to make black and white images. It is responsible for all the movies you
have ever seen, that is all silver gelatin. When George Eastman came out with the Kodak they started making flexible transparent film about 1889. Once you have a flexible medium,
motion pictures becomes possible. Gelatin silver is also responsible for color photography. During development the silver releases dye and during fixing you get rid of the silver but the dyes remain. All of the color photographs you have ever made everything in the 20th century that was color had silver and gelatin in that emulsion, and that is really what is becoming obsolete by the digital process. The shift from analog to digital photography
has been going on a long time. 2004 was the high water mark for film production. After 2004 you really start to see the sales of
digital cameras taking over film cameras. I teach public workshops in photographic
processes here at George Eastman House We just recently declared that silver gelatin
emulsion is a historic process. So now we are teaching people how to make dry plates and photographic paper from scratch.


  1. In a way it's kinda sad film is disappearing but digital is really better, alot of people complain that it lacks creativity but I don't think that's true. If you look at Gursky's work for one it's very subtle changes that make his photographs stand out

  2. film isn't disappearing, it is evolving. Nowadays there is no need for many different kinds of films, because now there are films that are mostly suitable for every photographic purpose. Also there are lots of film-related kickstarter projects out there. I choose digital over film when I am doing my commercial shoots (because it makes it easier), but I still shoot film when i am working on my personal exhibition projects. 120mm film still holds up pretty well.

  3. I think there is still place for chemical photography. I think there are reason not only because quality, but also about limits. Happens the same with vinyl music, it's not only the quality and the "roundness" of the analog audio, it's also the work involved in create that music, and what happened with the loudness war, it happend with photography, but when you need that amount of work to make art in this analog formats, then you take care of doing something better normally called art.

  4. Spent a good part of the 70s working for a company that made photographic gelatin. The impurities naturally occurring in the gelatin would have a direct effect on how the silver responded. So each day we would make the photographic emulsion with the various gelatin batches produced ( or gelatin blends ). The emulsion would be coated on to a film backing ( in the early days we used glass which was later cut in to strips in total darkness ). Once dry it was exposed using a graduated filter, developed and then the density of the greys measured and compared with a standard.

    There were dozens of different methods for controlling grain size and distribution. It helped make the work very interesting.

  5. So thats how they make a Photograpic Emulsion.
    And it's very intresting that they used to make a photograph on a glass. 🙂

  6. So my big question is, why silver? Out of all the elements that are similar to silver why silver? Of course the halides are needed for the electron swap but there are plenty other elements like silver that have a 1+ charge. Is it because it’s the easiest accessible element that has crystalline structures with those “defects” and also a 1+ charge?

  7. WTF! “Obsolete” and “historic process”?!

    Are these the same people who is trying to keep film alive and relaunching new emulsions?!

    Film is not obsolete.
    It’s superior.
    Vastly superior.
    And shouldn’t Kodak be telling us that?
    Instead they are doing halfarsed history lessons, that has been done much better before.

    And historic process?
    WTF does that even mean?
    Everything has a history. But film has its best time ahead if Kodak wants it to.

  8. Many Thanks for your, precious video, which turns back to the early photographic inventions since two centuries ago, which became a huge industry, that was shared in the all universe created civilization, especially medicine, scientific research, cinematic world, space exploration and the whole our contemporary world, The first one was, George Eastman, who established the baseline that continued more than 120 years ago, I'm so glad to seeing, such a wonderful video of how to make and prepare and coating of the fluid silver bromide emulsion, that was my hobby since I was in twenties, I've made an orthochromatic plates, using Erythrosin dye as a sensitiser to silver bromide emulsion, these processes tooks, much effort, time and money, and gets highly successful experiment, in addition of making photographic papers, bromide and Chlorobromide emulations. So I'm very anxious to that interesting point, once again Thanks so much for your, awesome practical explanation, have you more continuation of success.

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