Gold in photography. The history and art of chrysotype AND The chrysotype manual. The science and practice of photographic printing in gold

Gold in photography. The history and art of chrysotype  

Mike Ware   

Brighton, UK: Ffotoffilm Publishing  2006 | 236pp | ?36 (HB) | ISBN 0955112911   

The chrysotype manual. The science and practice of photographic printing in gold   

Mike Ware   

Brighton, UK: Ffotoffilm Publishing  2006 | 211pp | ?24 (spiral bound) | ISBN 0955112904    

Reviewed by  Graham English 

These companion books tell the intriguing story of the rediscovery of a lost photographic process invented by Sir John Herschel in 1842, namely photographic printing in gold, called the chrysotype process after the Greek word  crusoV for gold. 

The production of photographic prints started in the 19th century with salted paper prints, but these were later replaced by albumen prints and eventually by the gelatine silver prints which became the dominant black and white photographic printing process of the 20th century. 

Alongside these processes, however, there were other photographic printing processes in use in the 19th century, especially the iron-based chrysotype, platinotype and palladotype processes. Sheets of paper sensitised with iron salts are exposed in contact with a negative until a faint image is formed. In development, the iron salts were replaced with gold, platinum or palladium and the image became more pronounced. Platinotypes and palladotypes were popular in the 19th century because their good tonal range and surface quality was favoured by fine art photographers. They fell out of favour around the time of the first world war due to their expense. The gold equivalent, the chrysotype, despite its additional property of producing prints in a variety of colours depending on the size of the gold particles, was never so popular because of chemical difficulties in its application. 

In Gold in photography,  Mike Ware outlines the history of Herschel’s original chrysotype process and his own life’s work to rediscover the process and render it practicable. He has developed new chemical formulations to make the process more practical. Crucial to these developments was his discovery in 1987 of thiodipropanoic acid as a ligand to stabilise the gold. 

In The chrysotype manual, Ware gives a practical guide to the formulations in his new chrysotype process in sufficient detail to enable others to replicate the process and produce their own chrysotypes with good tonal gradation in a wide range of colours. 

These books are fascinating to read and show a man completely dedicated to the rediscovery of these lost processes. I wonder with today’s capture of images with digital cameras and mobile phones, just how many will be interested in actually putting these researches into practical use, although a few who have dabbled in photographic darkroom chemistry might have a go. 

Ironically, one of the concerns of the author is that digital images are ephemeral and that gold photography could produce even more permanent printed images than those traditionally provided by silver.