View Full Version : Mammoth albumen print?
04-22-2012, 11:11 PM
Hopefully some APUGers can share their insights here. The image in the photo attached is absolutely huge. Frame dimensions are 30 x 48 inches with an image size of 22 x 40 inches. It is quite old. Judging by the frame, it dates from around the turn of the 20th century. I have never been able to determine what the dang thing is. At first blush it looks like a mammoth albumen photograph, but at this size and aspect ratio I wonder if that is possible. Could it be an example of some sort of photomechanical mass-production process from that era? A few times I have convinced myself that it is a drawing or engraving, but there is so much detail everywhere that it would have taken years to draw it all in. And then there is the lone figure standing in the foreground. Possibly the photographer? Hard to imagine otherwise!
In any case, I was hoping someone would look at this and say, "Oh that's a typical XXX. They were popular from 18xx to 19xx." I have never had the nerve to open it up and look at the back of the image, so I can't help there. Yes, that banding is real. There are some vertical braces on the back that must be protecting the image. All the rest looks like it has a bit of acid decay.
Thanks in advance for any help.
04-23-2012, 05:34 PM
Don't underestimate the capabilities of our ancestors in photography. I don't know where, but I think I read somewhere that they were even capable of printing life size figure photos (so up to 2 meters high) in the 19th century. For printing, a solar enlarger could be used, using the sun as the light source.
Also, camera's as big as your print, are known from these days.
As for printing techniques capable of photo rendition, there were a couple of processes, like Woodbury-type. But these use more or less stable printing inks, related to oil paints, and shouldn't show the same image degradation silver based processes can show. Looking at the image with a loupe might tell something, together with inspecting the sides of the image. Some printing process like Woodbury, left clear signs of their origin along the borders of the image.
David A. Goldfarb
04-23-2012, 07:50 PM
Early 20th C is a little beyond the albumen era, but if you're going by the frame, the print could be older. Is it on thin paper mounted to board? Albumen prints are almost always on thin paper mounted to a heavier board. How does the gloss compare to other albumen prints you've seen? Albumen prints were fairly glossy for their era, but there was also a matte albumen process, and these prints are quite flat. They're not as glossy as a ferrotyped silver gelatin print.
In the heyday of albumen printing, albumen paper was coated in quantity, but they used the float method, and with practice it's possible to coat large sheets. The German women who worked in those factories certainly had practice. The paper was just albumenized, and the photographer still had to sensitize it with silver nitrate solution.
I've seen large albumen prints of historical architectural monuments like that, usually in the stalls of French dealers at AIPAD.
04-23-2012, 08:16 PM
Early 20th C is a little beyond the albumen era....
“Atget's output declined after 1910 and virtually ceased during the First World War (1914–1918).” http://www.nga.gov/feature/atget/bio.shtm
Not to say Atget had anything to do with this print, but there were artists working in albumen after 1900.
David A. Goldfarb
04-24-2012, 11:37 AM
Yes, there were, so it's certainly possible, but it's on the decline already in the 1890s, maybe a bit like APUG.
04-24-2012, 01:09 PM
If you still have doubts, here is a picture of the "Photographic Hall" of the Philadelphia "Centennial Exhibition" World Fair celebrating 100 year of independence of the U.S. in 1876. Just look at some of the huge landscape prints on display in this stereo-graph.
Photo from the The Philadelphia Department of Records "PhillyHistory.org" site (http://www.phillyhistory.org/)
Also see this nice blog article on the same site:
And two other nice sites about that World Fair:
I especially liked this quote from the first link:
"Standing upon tiptoe on the topmost step of your ladder, arranging and rearranging probably a mammoth box, stifled and sweating under the confinement of a heavy head cloth, peering on a ground glass, out of the obscurity depicted on which you could barely trace the outlines of some object unusually bright, confused by the talking, laughing and uncomplimentary remarks of the people, and the incessant shuffling of their feet in what you knew to be dangerous proximity."
- Photographer John L. Gihon in 1876 during the Centennial World Fair Exhibition in Philadelphia, the Centennial Photographic Company, published in The Philadelphia Photographer.
04-24-2012, 01:24 PM
It is also possible that this was stitched together out of more than one negative. I recall seeing a 6-foot-ish panorama by I want to say Carleton Watkins of a village in Mexico at the foot of a volcano. It was spliced together from three or four negatives from an 18x22 or maybe 20x24 camera. It was so well executed that you could not tell where the seams in the image were except from the slight changes in perspective that came from rotating the camera. That was an albumen print from the 1870s, IIRC. This image certainly has a perspectival distortion that looks like it was made by either a swing-lens camera, a Cirkuit or at least a multi-negative shot spliced together.
04-24-2012, 01:40 PM
It is also possible that this was stitched together out of more than one negative. I recall seeing a 6-foot-ish panorama by I want to say Carleton Watkins of a village in Mexico at the foot of a volcano. It was spliced together from three or four negatives from an 18x22 or maybe 20x24 camera.
Agree, I would even go as far as to say that it is likely that most, if not all, of the panoramas visible in the photograph of the Centennial Exhibition I posted were "stitched" from multiple negatives.
04-24-2012, 09:12 PM
Hi there TFC -
I am with you on the distortion - that has been perplexing me a bit. I was not sure if it was evidence of bad drawing or good photography! I will take a look for signs of stitching tomorrow. The image is in the bedroom with my youngest so I do not want to disturb tonight.
It is also possible that this was stitched together out of more than one negative... This image certainly has a perspectival distortion that looks like it was made by either a swing-lens camera, a Cirkuit or at least a multi-negative shot spliced together.