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Gelatin Silver Prints

Silver gelatin prints are photographs printed on plate or papers coated with a silver salt and gelatin solution. In 1871, glass plates were coated with the emulsion, which spreads easily over the surface like a glue film, and soon afterwards gelatin silver papers were produced commercially for more portability.

Silver chloride is particularly suited for contact printing, and by the 20th century, was the preferred photographic material for black and white prints. The most popular papers in use had been albumen coated, but gelatin silver prints tend to resist fading and yellowing better and supplanted this method fairly quickly. While early art photographers, such as the Pre-Raphaelites, shot deliberately in soft focus, favoring a blurred image that worked well with the albumen print process, silver gelatin papers were more suited to other effects.

Photographers in the early part of the 20th century preferred the glossy surface of silver gelatin prints, as many sought the sharpest detail and tone that the medium can provide. Though the gelatin silver print fell out of favor and were replaced by color methods, many contemporary photographers continue to use the silver gelatin process for the rich depth of tone and light and dark contrast they can achieve with the process.

Quick Facts

  • Edweard Muybridge, known for his motion photographs, intended to create a book of humans and animals in action, breaking down each millisecond of objects and bodies engaged in movement. His first success was to show a horse in gallop
  • Later experiments of Muybridge's were printed using the gelatin dry plate method, and the sharpness of the prints was suited for scientific study
  • When printing his Equivalents, abstract images of clouds and sky, Alfred Stieglitz chose to develop them as gelatin silver contact prints. The Equivalents were a reaction to prove his camera skills and laid the groundwork for the abstract photography of his contemporaries

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