Bromoil Process - A brief history and overview

22 June 2014

SIG: Archaeology and Heritage

The Bromoil Process as we know it today, originated in 1907 after three years of experiments by E.J Wall and C. Welbourne Piper in various Oil originated processes. Experimentation followed in the early years with the introduction of coloured inks as well as the previously used blacks and browns. In 1911 the process of the Bromoil Transfer Print was introduced enabling the artists to run off several transfers from an original print. These transfers were of a very ‘delicate nature’ and deemed to be the ultimate, in the way of the final image.

The process had its heyday in the Pictorial period in Britain and Europe in the early 1900s and was much used by such renowned European photographers as Robert Demachy and Heinrich Kuhn, and in Britain by G.L. Hawkins and Sam Weller. Weller went on to form the Bromoil Circle of Great Britain in 1931, which is still in existence today.

The Bromoil Process is a process whereby the silver image, which is contained in an original black and white print, is replaced by an ink image by way of several chemical processes.

Briefly, the method is as follows: A silver bromide image is produced on a suitable paper in the darkroom. With a specially formulated bleach, the image is completely bleached away. During this bleaching process the gelatine held in the paper is hardened, depending on the amount of silver it contains. After fixing, washing and drying the print, the second stage of the process begins with the soaking in water of the print. After wiping dry the print, lithographic ink is applied by brush, slowly building up the image by applying the ink which takes readily to the ‘shadow areas’ were the gelatine has hardened and rejected in the’ highlight’ areas, were the gelatine has swollen.

By careful brush work, the bromoilist has full control over the final image, thus replacing the silver image with an ink image, which is far more permanent.

I am at present the Secretary/Treasurer of the previously mentioned Bromoil Circle and I am researching its founder member, the afore-mentioned Sam Weller, who lived in Pinner, Middlesex, and passed away in 1965. If any member can offer any information about him, I would much appreciate it.

Bromoil photographs 1-4 and feature photograph by Sam Weller, photos 5-6 by Brian Iddon LRPS.

You can visit the Bromoil Circle's website here

Pictorial Waterways - Exhibition of Bromoils and Bromoil Transfers, National Waterways Museum, Ellesmere Port, CH65 4FW, now extended to Jul 31 2014

Brian Iddon showing some of his prints at Print Day 2014 in Leatherhead