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Simple glossary of photographic terms

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If you have a question about any definition or topic that you don’t see below, please contact us at the gallery and we’ll be happy to help. See also our listing of commonly asked questions.

Archival processing & storage
Archival processing involves a series of procedures in photographic printing. The objective is to chemically fix the image and remove superfluous metals and chemicals to insure the permanence and longevity of the photograph. The processes may include multiple fixing baths, toning with gold chloride or selenium, and extensive washing.* In addition it is recommended that all photographs be stored, conserved and framed using only museum quality, ph-neutral materials.

Blind stamp
A blind stamp is an identification mark embossed onto the mount of a photograph, and less frequently onto the photograph itself. The stamp usually indicates the name or address of the photographer or the publisher of his work.*

Contact print
A contact print, the same size as its negative is produced by placing the negative in direct contact with the paper rather than projecting the image onto the paper through an enlarger. Contact prints have an extraordinary resolution, that is, sharpness of detail. All early photographs were made by contact printing, since successful enlarging became possible only in the 1890’s.*

Cyanotype
Sir John Herschel invented the cyanotype process in 1840, and patented it in 1842 (Herschel, an astronomer and inventor, was the first to use the terms ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ to describe the manufacture of a photographic print. A portrait of him by Julia Margaret Cameron is perhaps his most well known memorial today). Cyanotype was the name Herschel gave to a print made from the action of light on iron salts. This was among the very earliest permanent processes which in the 1870’s became known as ‘blueprint’ and is still widely used to reproduce architectural plans. The name cyanotype does not refer to the blue colour (cyan) of the prints, but rather to the use of ferrous cyanide in the emulsion.*

Edition
An edition is a limitation on the number of prints of a photograph from a single negative. As in traditional printmaking, the edition limitation is noted in the form of a fraction with the numerator noting where the print is in the series, and the denominator noting the total number of prints.*

Emulsion
Emulsion is a light-sensitive coating, applied to photographic paper, plates and film, in which the final image material is suspended and protected. The emulsion consists of silver-halide crystals suspended in gelatine. In albumen and collodion prints, the halides rested on the surface of these substances and were not suspended in them. With salt prints, and platinum and/or palladium prints, the emulsion is absorbed into the paper fibre.*

Enlargement
Any photographic print larger than that of the negative from which it was made is an enlargement. An enlargement is made by projecting light through a negative held in an enlarger onto a piece of photographic paper. Successful enlargements were rare before the 1890's.*

Gelatin silver print
This is a black and white photograph printed on paper coated with an emulsion consisting of gelatin and silver salts. The type of silver salt contained in the gelatin emulsion determines what method of printing is used. Papers containing silver chloride are used for contact printing, whereas papers containing silver bromide are used for enlargements. Chloro-bromide papers, containing a combination of the two silver salts, may be used for either method of printing. The two silver salts also produce different tones in a print. The tone of a gelatin silver-bromide print is generally neutral black while a gelatin silver-chloride print is bluish black or cool in tone. Prints on a chloro-bromide paper have a warm, brownish black tone.*

Mount
The mount is the secondary support to which a photograph is attached. The primary support is the paper on which the photograph is printed. Contemporary mounts should be good quality stock that is acid-free.*

Photogravure
The hand-pulled gravure is one of the most beautiful ink processes for reproducing photographs. Alfred Stieglitz and other Photo-Secessionist photographers used for the illustrations in the early photographic journal Camera Work. Gravures are made with a copper plate which often leaves an indented or debossed plate mark around the image. Under magnification the image appears grainy and soft, and dark areas and shadows are seen to be pitted. The early hand-pulled gravures reproduce the continuous tone of an original photograph. Commercial mechanical gravure became a popular method of reproducing photographs, and the process deteriorated, becoming heavy looking and without distinction. Eventually, gravure was replaced in commercial use by the halftone plate. Some contemporary artists are reviving this difficult and beautiful process.*

Platinum and Palladium prints
This contact printing process was used primarily from 1873-1916, when platinum paper was replaced for the most part by palladium. Both processes are extremely permanent and have deliacte rich tones and ranges of greys that are unobtainable in a silver print. palladium was introduced in 1916 when platinum became expensive and difficult to obtain as a result of Worl War I. As no gelatin emulsion is used, the final print has a matte surface with a deposit of platinum and/or palladium absorbed slightly into the paper support. This process is enjoying a revival today, with a number of contemporary photographers coating their paper supports with specially prepared platinum and/or palladium emulsions.*

Silver print
Silver print is a generic term referring to all prints made on paper coated with silver salts. Most contemporary black and white photographs are silver prints.*

Vintage/old/modern prints
A photograph printed within a very few years of the date when the negative was made is considered a vintage print. Prints made recently from the original negatives are called 'modern prints' or 'later prints'. Most often modern prints are made by the photographer, or made directly under his or her supervision. Modern prints may also be made posthumously and are specifically noted as posthumous prints, often identifying the person who made the photograph. The date of a print can usually be determined by the paper used, the quality of the printing, the presence or absence of a signature and/or stamp, and the condition of the paper surace, which develops a kind of patina with age.*

You can find out more by exploring the rest of our collecting guide:

EXPLORE! - our visual guide organised by subject and genre

ABOUT HACKELBURY - who we are and how to reach us

ARTISTS - find an artist by name, with an image and a short description of their work

SERVICES - details of the many services we provide as a gallery, including sourcing, framing, private and corporate advisory services.

 

For all enquiries please contact: katestevens@hackelbury.co.uk

*from "On Collecting Photographs" © AIPAD 2001, The Association of Photography Art Dealers

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© 2003 Hackelbury Fine Art, Ltd. Copyright for all images is held by the respective artist or estate and they may not be reproduced in any form without express premission. All rights reserved.