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Contemporary Bromoil prints Bromoil is derived of the oil process, which was invented by E.J. Wall of Great Britain and later perfected by Welborne Piper. The Bromoil process was popular from about 1910 through 1949, with some workers continuing into the early 1960s. It was invented so that an artist could make oil prints without having a large negative. Bromoil, bromoil transfers and oil prints are made in ink, creating the impression of an etching or a hand-made print. Any negative that prints well in silver can be used for this process. A significant advantage to the bromoil process is that original negatives can be used in an enlarger to make prints, eliminating the need for large negatives or contact prints, a frequent requirement of other alternative processes. Bromoil emerged from necessity and evolved into a well-loved process with broad creative applications.
Many of the artists who worked with what are now considered "alternative processes" turned to these techniques to achieve the characteristic soft, painterly expressive images of a fine artist. After World War II, trends in photography changed dramatically. In contrast to the pictorialists, photographers, such as the F64 group, with their sharp, detailed imagery became preferred and softer aesthetics fell out of favor. Demand for the supplies required to produce Bromoil prints diminished causing them to virtually disappear from the marketplace. This served to further dissipate the use of the process.
Today, there is a bromoil revival. Artists have returned to the past to find methods of expression that spark their imagination and provide new outlets for their creativity. The bromoil process affords one potential to achieve these things. No longer limited to the romantic realm of the pictorialists, the tone and significance of bromoil prints varies widely. An artist is able to control subject matter, style, texture and color of inking, resulting in images as diverse and unique as each individual print maker.
Photography has reached a level of refinement, which allows the skilled artisan to apply their creative talents by varying technique and combining processes to create images of rare beauty. Today’s artists are using the alternative processes to compliment and contrast otherwise modern images. In comparison to the first half of the twentieth century where the pictorialists popularized bromoil as a favorite and often used process, largely for portraits and landscapes, modern photographers are adding a range of subject matter to what was traditionally considered appropriate content for bromoil.
Bromoil is a bromide silver gelatin print that has been bleached and tanned to remove the silver so that it can be replaced with a greasy pigment such as lithographic ink. The print is then bleached to remove the silver and fixed to complete the tanning or hardening of the gelatin. It is now called a matrix. After a soaking in water it is carefully surface dried to remove the water droplets. It is now inked with the greasy pigment; which causes the image to immerge.
F.G. Mortimer, Harold Cazneau. William Mortensen, Dr. Emil Mayer, Arthur Kales, and Frantisek Drtikol, are just a few of the expert bromoil workers that have added to the history of pictorial photography.
© Joy Goldkind (2006) – Used with permission