Redeveloping Ancient Albumen & Silver Prints.

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by Sparky, Jul 27, 2005.

  1. Sparky

    Sparky Member

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    Okay - I picked up just enough chemistry in university (two courses) to get myself into trouble. So here I go.

    I have an archive of VERY old 1880-1920 albumen (I think - I still have to verify) and what look like silver bromide/chloride prints. While NOT really having studied PHOTO chemistry too intensely, per se, but understanding the basic process of silver grain reduction, etc... it seems to me as though it might be possible to RE-develop some of these older, VERY faded prints. Some are very bad, and quite irregular in their damage.

    I would hazard a guess that the solution lies in knowing what happened to the active metal (whether it be silver or what-have-you) in the fading process. Is albumen a silver-bearing emulsion?

    At any rate... I'm hoping that even a toning process - like selenium toniing - forming a silver selenide compound may do the trick. Anybody know for sure what I might try and how it may turn out? I'd love to experiment on my own - though I don't really want to lose a valuable (to me) print. A very educated guess would work, too.

    thanks much.
    Jonathan
     
  2. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Prints of that age were mostly POP prints - there is no development involved. Both Albumen, gelatin/ silver chloride, collodion and many other print types were POP ("Printing-Out-Paper"). I have a little collection myself, from the 1860's to 1930...

    There is a danger that developer might destroy the print. There is, conversely, a possibility that it will develop the bleached areas thus restoring the print...

    Do not use Kodak selenium toner: It contains ammonium thiosulfate, which will bleach POP prints. I know this from having seen it myself; I occasionally use POP paper when the weather is too nice to hide in the darkroom. I tried KRST once or twice, then bought gold toner. I use very very weak (1:50 from working solution) rapid fix to "clean" highlights by bleaching.

    If they were toned originally they may have been toned with gold, gold/mercury, gold/lead, uranium, platinum, palladium, palladium/mercury or a number of other once popular toners.
     
  3. Sparky

    Sparky Member

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    Thanks much, Ole, what goes on in the emulsion of POP paper in contrast to enlarging paper? Yes, from what I recall – these self-develop. However - can one not 'fix' them – removing any residual chemical matrix (very gently of course!) and leaving a silver/binder matrix?
     
  4. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    You're right Sparky - they are (usually) fixed.

    The silver "develops" through the action of light alone, as any photo paper left in the sun will show. These papers are exposed until the image is sufficiently -exposed, then washed, toned and fixed - usually in that order. So what's left is a a silver (or silver/gold, or whatever) image in a matrix. But the grains are very small, and susceptible to just about anything. Untoned POP prints tend not to last very long, while toned prints can be very stable. Insufficient fixing, or toning, or washing, or poor storage can all lead to damage over 100 years.
     
  5. Marco Gilardetti

    Marco Gilardetti Member

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    I would be EXTREMELY cautious (=I would never, never do it) in any attempt of chemically restoring a photograph.

    Photograph restoration is very very delicate matter itself, and it requires, as a first step, a perfect and deep knowledge of the entire specific process which lead to any specific photograph in question.

    Chemical restoration mainly lead to disasters in the past, and as far as I know is to day disregarded. Even though, in some cases, results may look good in the near future, they have usually damaged the image faster than normal storage.

    Very famous is the case of a Daguerrotype of E.A Poe, which, chemically restored, is today almost lost and in incredibly worse conditions than before.

    My suggestion is to concentrate, instead, on a proper storage of your ancient pictures.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 27, 2005
  6. Gerald Koch

    Gerald Koch Member

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    Before attempting any chemical restorations make copy negatives of the prints. Use a fine grain ortho or panortho film or use a blue filter with pan film. This will restore the contrast in the faded prints. Only if you are satisfied with prints made from these negatives should you attempt any other form of restoration.

    Kodak used to have a publication on photo restoration. See if you can get a copy as it is very informative.

    Personally, I would not attempt any chemical restoration.
     
  7. gainer

    gainer Subscriber

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    Another possibility, which I suggest in great temerity on this forum, is to scan the pictures for preservation before attempting any chemical process. I have scanned 5X7 glass plate negatives made by my grandfather, who died in 1905. These were stored in terrible conditions. I was able to restore over 100 of them by digital means. They are now on a CD from which I can make digital prints or digital negatives from which I can make silver, platinum, or any other kind of analog prints.
     
  8. Marco Gilardetti

    Marco Gilardetti Member

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    This is indeed a field in which digital plays a good role.

    By scanning, retouching and printing, you'll have results uncomparably better than any (risky) chemical restoration you could ever make.
     
  9. Donald Qualls

    Donald Qualls Member

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    While original albumen prints were made with a printing-out process, the image is silver metal just as with modern silver gelatin prints (and, for that matter, modern POP prints). Issues of potentially destroying the prints aside, fading is most likely due to bleaching action of residual fixer, or due to oxidation/sulfiding of the silver due to atmospheric action. It might be possible to use a halogenating bleach (like those used in reversal and C-41 processes), followed by light exposure and redevelopment in any print or film developer to restore the image -- but more likely you'll find that the faded areas are permanently destroyed (the silver converted to a colorless thiosulfate complex), and risk destruction of the remaining image if anything goes wrong in the process.
     
  10. Sparky

    Sparky Member

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    I had the impression that most reducers required the use of a developer to redevelop silver cations once rehalogenated. But that's just the way I'm remembering it. Donald, are you saying that if I use a rehalogenating bleach (i.e. KMnO4) then the film will be once again light sensitive?

    At any rate - it seems to me that the whole trick is to chemically treat said print in such a way that we can get a maximum reaction from the originally reduced silver grains and neutralize any residual or non-image related chemical complexes. Seems easy in theory. Maybe I'll just have to find a bunch of older, chemically similar junk photos and do some experimentation.

    Sure - I may well scan the prints - though digitally retouching would be a ridiculous chore with some of these since the images are SO faint and some of the 'predatory' staining is so bad and very irregular. The chemical route seems FAR less labor intensive.

    Thanks much,
    Jonathan
     
  11. Marco Gilardetti

    Marco Gilardetti Member

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    Theorically speaking: yes, but since all the silver compounds which were unnecessary to the image had been already removed with a fixer, and those which actually form the image had already been exposed, the image structure won't change anymore when exposed to light. But it may change, to some extent, its apparent density or colour depending on the developing / toning agent you use. That's why you can do all toning works in daylight.

    But again: before attempting any chemical work, take a look around on this forum. Please note how many problems (spots, casts...) people have to deal with even with brand new, perfectly fixed and well washed papers. Just imagine what may happen with an old, dirty, probably not well fixed and even less washed photograph, which has reacted over years with hundreds of unknown aggressive compounds which usually fill the air. As Donald said, FORGET that what appears as a corroded spot on the picture, will show any detail if toned.

    The increase of contrast you can have with a digital expansion of dynamic will kick you out of the window. Try it.
     
  12. Donald Qualls

    Donald Qualls Member

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    Well, permanganate isn't (in and of itself) a rehalogenating bleach. Ferricycanide, as usually used in solutions like Farmer's Reducer, is, but the bleaches that include sulfuric acid are not.

    But yes, if bleached with a rehalogenating bleach, the silver halide that results is light sensitive and must be either light fogged or chemically fogged in order to redevelop (note that the thiocarbamide solution in bleach/redevelop sepia systems is a self-fogging developer, sort of). This property can be used for situations like recovering the color information in C-41 film accidentally developed as B&W -- bleach with rehalogenating bleach (like non-fixing C-41 bleach), fog, and then develop as normal in C-41, and the dye couplers that B&W process doesn't remove will allow the color dyes to set and the negatives to convert to color negatives.

    Conversely, a halogenating bleach used to reduce an image must be fixed to preventing printing out from long term light exposure, while sulfuric acid based bleaches completely remove the bleached silver and require no further treatment beyond the sodium sulfite clearing bath, if removing the silver image is all that's required.
     
  13. Allen Friday

    Allen Friday Member

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    I highly recommend that you purchase a copy of "Conservation of Photographs", Eastman Kodak Company, ISBN 0-87985-352-2, cat 193 5725. I think you will find chapter 8 "Deterioration" and chapter 11 "Restoration of Deteriorated Images" on point. The approach of the book is that you first need to test the image to determine the type of deterioration (they give very good examples) and then you treat the deterioration by a specific means. It also lays out all the pit falls of attempting the different types of restoration. If the pitfalls don't scare you off from trying the restoration, their instructions will save you from re-inventing the wheel.

    It is also a good read on how to process and store your current images for maximum longevity.
     
  14. Smudger

    Smudger Member

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    F.W.I.W...

    From an old clipping in my collection :
    " To restore old stained and faded prints : soak the print for 10 minutes in a 1% solution of formalin. Stain the print in a dilute solution of potassium permanganate or pot.bichromate,then wash. Bleach the print to whiteness in a 10% solution of sodium bisulfite and wash again. Develop the print in any print developer under a bright light to the desired density then fix and wash as normal. According to the book, this treatment will restore beautifully any old b&w photograph."
     
  15. Sparky

    Sparky Member

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    Thanks everyone..!

    Just wanted to thank you for your rational, knowledgeable and considered responses... I am inspired. Though this will be a few months down the road... and Smudger (!) - what the heck... that sounds pretty authoratative - and PERHAPS crazy enough to work. Can't hurt to try...! And it would be FUN huffing the formalin, too! Might preserve me somewhat as a side bonus.

    thanks.
     
  16. Sparky

    Sparky Member

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    Sources...

    Do you remember what the source was for that BTW??
     
  17. Smudger

    Smudger Member

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    Source..

    The clipping quoted was from a book called "Tricks for Camera Owners", published in 1939. I have no other info but it's likely an American publication,given the spelling of bisulfite..(Anglophones use the bisulphite variation).
    The formalin is obviously to harden the emulsion. Another source (Ilford Manual of Photography) suggests potassium alum as an alternative.
    I would be interested to know if it works - please post your results.
    And - make a copy neg first.
     
  18. pgomena

    pgomena Member

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    I think Donald Qualls' first reply in this thread was dead-on. You risk losing the images entirely, or further damaging them.

    Atmospheric pollution is a major player in fading of albumen prints. You will likely not restore detail in any faded areas. You risk further bleaching away any detail that might be there, information that might well be enhanced digitally.

    I scan dozens of old photographs a day for the Oregon Historical Society. Most are silver-gelatin, many are older prints, including albumen prints. By selecting the color channel appropriate for the color of the stain, you can filter out a great deal of visual "clutter" in an image, and by simply adjusting contrast, bring back an amazing amount of hidden detail. I've pulled some incredibly good visual information from photographs that are badly faded, and I use an Epson scanner with SilverFast software, nothing fancy.

    Digital imaging is a boon to restoring or just preserving old images. We have no budget or lab facilities for restoring faded images. We preserve as best is possible what we have, and scan them for future reference.

    I think the first step is to do no harm. Digital imaging is your friend here. Zero impact, high return. This is salvage work, not creativity.

    Peter Gomena