The Salt Print

A brief history of the Salt Print.

Salt printing was one of the earliest forms of producing an image by capturing light onto paper and was invented by British scientist, inventor and photography pioneer William Henry Fox Talbot in 1834.

In its basic form chemicals including Sodium Chloride (commonly known as Salt) and Silver are mixed onto paper creating a light sensitive medium that is then exposed to sunlight or other forms of Ultra Violet light. This method was far from stable and repeatable and was further developed into the Black and White photographic darkroom print as we know it today.

The salt print is a contact printing method so a negative of the image needs to be produced at the final print size and the challenge is to create a negative with the right contrast whilst retaining shadow and highlight detail. I am still amazed that the early prints made back in he 1830's are so clear, long before you could walk into a high street photography shop and buy a pack or negative film, the early pioneers also have to create their own negs, often with glass plates, but more on this in the future.

The practice of Salt Printing is referred to as an 'Alternative Printing Process' and is the enjoyment of the enthusiast or artist photographer as print results are difficult to control and have a distinctive tonal appearance with their rough around the edges effect. Its use as a commercial method of photography today is scarce due to the time required and the inconsistency in results.

My own Salt printing.

I started experimenting with Salt prints back in late 2012 after failing misserably to master another alternative process Gum Bichromate Prints. Its been a mix of inspiration, frustration and amazement as just when you think you have cracked a method that works the next print fails, sometimes catastrophically, but i guess if it was easy then where would be the sense of achievement.

I must admit that after a couple of years of experimenting with some success its fair to say that my enthusiasm was being challenged so back in the summer I headed down to the Tate Briton in London to see Salt and Silver, an exhibition of prints made by various photographers including Fox Talbot, some dating back over 170 years. I was amazed at the size and quality of these images, it was totally inspiring.