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What is Silver Gelatin and Why is it Important?-Global Images

What is Silver Gelatin and Why is it Important?


Until the 1970's, the Silver Gelatin black & white printing method was used almost exclusively by professional photographers. Color printing was used more commonly for commercial purposes. Although this process was the standard among the community, it's a complicated practice, thus it's virtually unused today. So what is a Silver Gelatin print and what does this process entail?

It was developed in the 1880s and consists of three layers. The main sources are of course Paper and Gelatin, but between that is a layer of baryta. Baryta is a barium sulfate combination. The Gelatin layer above it contains light-sensitive silver that develop the image upon processing in the darkroom. In the chemicals used, the silver reacts by getting darker in the blacks of the images, and more transparent in the whites. Additional chemicals are used to adjust the tone of the image and make it more stable. The process of developing is quite sensitive and requires attention to detail.


What separates Silver Gelatin from generic black & white prints made in a darkroom is its ability to last over long periods of time. The prints are sensitive with improper care, but a draw to these prints is their life expectancy. The clean, even appearance as well as the depth and range of tone are also staples of the process. Original Silver Gelatin prints by well-known photographers are extremely rare. Helmut Newton's signed prints typically price at five to six figures.

In an attempt to compare high quality digital printing and silver gelatin processing, one photographer describes that the result of silver gelatins is beyond compare. He explains that these special prints produce more detail shown and overall better tonality. If you were to make them today, you can find a less complicated process online, although it's recommended to use ISO speeds of 4-12, which requires sufficient sunlight.

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Helmut Newton is regarded to be one of the most famous and respected fine art fashion photographers in the world. His black and white photography highlights femininity, eroticism, heavy contrast, and all in all, high fashion. Global Images offers a gorgeous collection of vintage silver gelatin prints from Newton’s Private Property collection. Inquire for pricing and signed silver gelatin availability.

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