Origins of sepia toning

Discussion in 'Film Discussion and Q & A' started by icogs, Jan 12, 2013.

  1. icogs

    icogs TPF Noob!

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    I hope someone here can help me. I am interested in the origins of the classic sepia tone prints.

    I have had an interest on photography off-and-on for > 30 years and in that time I always attributed the brown tones of late Victorian photography to the use of sulphide toners - presumably to improve permanence at a time when available materials were of variable quality. The term 'sepia' I understood to refer to the colour being similar to that of sepia ink derived from cuttlefish as was used by Leonardo da Vinci and the like.

    However, an episode of the British TV show QI claimed that the cuttlefish ink was actually used in toning photographs. A Google search does bring up a number of sites which agree with this, e.g. Wikipedia, though I can find no authoritative references. An article at eHow.com seems to me to be a little confused by claiming that the sepia ink is responsible for converting the silver into a sulphide:
    I would appreciate opinions on this, and especially any links to authoritative sources or ways to contact someone who would know.


     
  2. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    Perhaps the Focal Encyclopedia of Photography has some comments in this link.

    ttp://books.google.com/books?id=g4Wx9yKrDS0C&pg=PT2574&lpg=PT2574&dq=Focal+Encyclopaedia+of+Photography+%2B+sepia+toning&source=bl&ots=QpuVtgVxqp&sig=J2G-FvAvb6KY9nddHq4nBJ1GL4A&hl=en&sa=X&ei=ppXxUOHZC6fDiwLHoYCwCA&ved=0CEYQ6AEwAw
     
  3. icogs

    icogs TPF Noob!

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    Thanks for the link Derrel. That book, like all other reliable texts I have consulted, talks only of sulphide/sulfide toning and makes no mention of sepia ink. This leads to my suspicion that others may have confused sepia toning with sepia ink. Perhaps I need tocontact an historian of photography to be sure...
     
  4. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    I was trying to think....I did a search on Lootens on Enlarging + sepia toner. Lootens on Enlarging is a classic old text on enlarging and printing...I thought it might have something in it...I wonder if the folks at Kodak might have something still on-line RE sepia toning. (???)

    a couple of hits from that search--have NOT got the time to read thru them. Wishing you the Very Best of luck in your quest!

    TONING AZO

    http://steveanchell.com/books/errata/dc-1_errata.pdf
     
  5. terri

    terri Administrator Staff Member Supporting Member

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    OP: Yes, the quote you provided is technically incorrect, as a simple pigment cannot convert a light-sensitive halide, such as the silver halides used in photographic papers. It’s a strictly chemical reaction. Photographic developers, fixers, and bleach and toners (such as sepia), can all impact silver halides and be controlled in the darkroom. Pigment does not qualify. A pigment can be used to stain a photographic paper -coffee, tea, wine - but they are not used for archival purposes. Chemical toners, such as sepia, gold, selenium, that affect the silver halides, can have archival benefits.

    Lots of info out there, as Derrel is providing, as well. Good luck with your study. :)
     
  6. compur

    compur No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Somebody somewhere may have dunked a print in some cuttlefish ink at some point but, as Terri pointed out, it could only stain, not tone the print. Photographic print toning is a chemical process that produces molecular changes in the surface of the print's silver (or other metal) and the resulting color has nothing to do with the color of the toner.

    If it were true that this ink was used to tone prints then surely one could locate the formula but there is no print toner formula that lists cuttlefish ink as an ingredient.

    I suspect the confusion comes from the fact that cuttlefish ink has been used as a medium in drawings so it does have some pictorial history. This, combined with the rapidly vanishing art of chemical photography has left us with numbskulls producing TV shows about things they know nothing about so they just copy what some other numbskull wrote in the wikipedia.
     
  7. Edward George

    Edward George TPF Noob!

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    Now I lay no claim to the specialised hands on knowledge of you guys, but I would like to bring to your attention my experience of an unframed photo print I had hanging on my wall just above my electric jug that I occasionally used to hard boil eggs. Now if I didn't keep an eye on this operation and the jug boiled and the eggs bounced around and cracked, releasing egg white, I could smell sulphurous compounds in the air. One day I noticed that a good half of this photographic print had developed a lovely sepia tone. I postulate that the sulphurous fumes carried by the steam wafting over half of this photo, which was in direct line of my electric jug is responsible for converting the finely divided silver of the print into the more stable sepia coloured silver sulphide. Considering that squid ink contains sulphurous compounds, it is entirely possible that an early photographer serendipitously discovered this chemical reaction while trying to soften the harsh black and white contrast of a print by the use of cuttlefish ink as a toner.
     
    Last edited: Dec 25, 2017
  8. compur

    compur No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Eggs can emit hydrogen sulfide and sulfides are involved with sepia toning of silver prints.

    I once had some silver prints hanging in a area above a garage and they became oddly discolored, I think probably due to the hydrogen sulfide in the car exhaust.

    But, what sulfides are contained in squid ink? I don't find evidence of any in my searches.
     
  9. Edward George

    Edward George TPF Noob!

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    Squid ink is black and contains melanin pigment which has varying chemical compositions depending on colour and shade. Cuttlefish ink is light brown to reddish brown and is caused by a sulphur nitrogen melanin compound. Sepiomelanin from the cuttlefish contains 0.2% Sulphur.
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/sdfe/pdf/download/eid/1-s2.0-S0040403901994857/first-page-pdf
     
    Last edited: Dec 25, 2017
  10. compur

    compur No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    OK, have fun with your cuttlefish ink toning. Be sure to post the results here.
     
  11. webestang64

    webestang64 No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    I have no idea how the first toning worked but I hated toning with the egg smell Kodak toner....thank God for Berg toning products!!
     
  12. Edward George

    Edward George TPF Noob!

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    I've had a good look through the 4 volumes of my 1880s Cassell's Technical Educator and in the Photography sections I can find no mention of sepia toning, but found a reference to cuttlefish ink in the Dyes from animal and vegetable section. No mention of what it was used for. This of course does not negate the numerous references to the use of cuttlefish ink to produce very early brown toned prints, as Victorian photography chemistry was well developed and they would have no doubt investigated the chemistry to produce a cheap and marketable product.

    Sepia Toning – A Milestone in Early Photography – SEPIA.org
    Photographic print toning : définition de Photographic print toning et synonymes de Photographic print toning (anglais)

    The original use of sepia ink, if it were ever used, would have been brief and be lost in the mists of time. I am only making the suggestion that sepia ink used as a toner may well have lead to the discovery that it did more than just dye white areas of a print, but may have changed the finely divided silver of black and grey areas into the more stable brown silver sulphide. Considering the fact that sulphurous fumes from my egg boiling may be responsible for that print of mine developing a sepia tone where it was more exposed to the sulphurous steam, the 0.2% of sulphur in genuine Sepia ink would probably be snapped up by the somewhat unstable black silver of the print should it be immersed in a solution containing said ink.
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/sdfe/pdf/download/eid/1-s2.0-S0040403901994857/first-page-pdf
     
    Last edited: Dec 26, 2017

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