Materials & Techniques

Albumen

Albumen is a binding agent made from egg whites, popular for producing photographs from 1855–1895. When applied to paper, albumen acts as a ground for the application of photosensitive silver nitrates. Albumen paper, invented by Louis-Désiré Blanquart-Evrard in 1850, created a smooth surface for suspension of the image, improving detail and tonal range. The paper is sensitized in silver nitrate, placed into a printing frame, and put into contact with the negative glass plate before being exposed to strong sunlight. Exposure is monitored for the desired density and then the print is removed from the frame before being fixed, toned, washed, and hung to dry. The manufacture of pre-made albumen paper was a booming business in the late 19th century; in 1894, one producer reported using sixty thousand egg whites each working day.

Excerpt from:

  • Label text, The Lens of Impressionism: Photography and Painting Along the Normandy Coast, 1850-1874, 2016.

Web Resources

  • Victoria and Albert Museum
    Learn more about albumen prints and explore different photographic techniques through the V&A;'s glossary of photographic processes.