If you have a process camera with a vacuum back, it could be used for pictorial results. I did a self portrait once.
The halftone process does exactly what you explain. It breaks a picture into a grid. You'll print tiny dots for highlights, checkerboards for middle gray and almost solid with tiny white dots for shadows. To make a halftone negative you would use a screen to project a fuzzy grid on the high-contrast film. The very earliest screens were two sheets of thin glass with parallel lines etched and inked. Then the two sheets of glass were crossed at 90 degrees back to back to make a checkerboard pattern. Held at a specific distance from the film, each checkerboard square projected a fuzzy image. Where the subject was bright, the whole square would go black but where it was dark the square would only get a threshold pinpoint of dark on the negative. I never actually saw one of the glass screens except in old books.
Later there were contact screens which were basically continuous tone copies of the shadow that the glass screens would project on the film. This is what you probably could get your hands on. You would lay it on top of your film and use a vacuum easel to get the air out.