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Featured Collection

D-Lib Magazine
May 2003

Volume 9 Number 5

ISSN 1082-9873

Albumen Photographs

History, Science and Preservation

Albumen photograph by Eugene Atget

Eugene Atget, French (1857-1927), Parc Monceau (8e arr); albumen print, 1901-02, 21.5 x 17.8 cm. (trimmed). From the collection of the George Eastman House. Used with permission.

The featured collection this month, Albumen Photographs: History, Science and Preservation, skillfully blends elements of science, history and art. The web site for the Albumen Photographs collection was launched in April 2001 and dedicated to "those who value the application of technology to the creative process of image making."

The authors of Albumen Photographs are art conservators interested in the history and preservation of photography, the evolution of imaging technology and the use of new technologies for advancing knowledge. Their goal has been to create a site that combines these interests as accessibly as possible through the use of historical literature and contemporary conservation science, with visually appealing images and videos. Timothy Vitale, Preservation Associates and Paul Messier, Boston Art Conservation, originally conceived the idea for the site, secured sponsorship and funding, and have provided much of the original content. They are joined by Walter Henry, Stanford University Libraries, who converts content to formats for web viewing and provides other technical expertise, and by John Burke, Oakland Museum of California, who does most of the site design and programming.

The various key sections of the site include: "Library," "Science," "Technology," "Gallery," "Video Clips" and the "Treatment Forum," all of which are designed to work together. Descriptions of a few of these key sections follow.

The "Library" contains primary source material for the study of albumen photography. Over 150 articles and four complete monographs organized by topic can be found here. The illustration below is from a monograph, published in 1863, that is available in full text in the "Library" section of the web site.

Experiment Diagram

"An apparatus for distilling ether." (Ether was required for the preparation of collodion used for wet-plate glass negatives in the 19th century.) Desire van Monckhoven, A Popular Treatise on Photography. Translated By W.H. Thornthwaite. London, 1863. Used with permission.

The science behind albumen and albumen prints is explained and illustrated in the section "Science". Here, for example, one finds the reasons for the "cracking" exhibited in albumen photographs. (In fact, detecting such "cracks" helped early conservators to distinguish albumen photographs from those using other methods of photographic printing.)

Beautiful, unique, and historical albumen prints are collected for viewing in "The Gallery". The image of mother and child on the table of contents of this issue of D-Lib Magazine, as well as the copy of the photograph by Eugene Atget at the top of this page are from "The Gallery".


Doug Munson of the Chicago Albumen Works sensitizing a sheet of albumen paper in silver nitrate solution. Photo credit Tim Vitale & Paul Messier. Used with permission.

For those interested in how albumen prints are made, "Video" offers a movie in Apple QuickTime™ format that features Doug Munson demonstrating the process. Although there are only two videos available at this time, the authors plan to expand this section.

The resources described above are but a few features of the Albumen Photographs web site. To discover additional features, you are encouraged to start at the home page, which is located at <>, and to explore and enjoy this educational and visually stunning collection.

Institutional backing for the Albumen Photographs site is provided by the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, the Monterey Museum of Art, and the Stanford University Libraries and Academic Information Resources.

Courtesy of:
Timothy Vitale, Preservation Associates
Paul Messier, Boston Art Conservation
Walter Henry, Stanford University Libraries
and John Burke, Oakland Museum of California

Copyright© 2003 Corporation for National Research Initiatives

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DOI: 10.1045/may2003-featured.collection