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Thread: Syrian Ashphalt

  1. #1

    Syrian Ashphalt

    Forgive the rambling of an ignorant novice, but I wonder if anyone would like to comment on a random thought...

    I didn't realise that the first photograph was made on a bitumen-coated plate... 1825 by Nicephore Niepce.

    I came across this because I was looking up "heliograph". I've seen modern examples of this in f295 that use photosensitive coatings or carbon tissue to transfer images onto copper plates that are later etched. I used to do copperplate etchings manually in the old fashioned way of coating the plate with a thin film of wax, drawing through it with a needle to expose the metal, then etching the exposed lines with acid. The grooves in the metal hold ink and the unetched surface is wiped clean. It needs enormous pressure to print as the paper must be forced into the grooves to pick up the ink. This is 'intaglio' printing.

    Niepce used 'Syrian Ashphalt' - it's still available - which is a light-sensitive bitumen/clay mixture. Light falling on the ashphalt makes it harden, unexposed ashphalt can be washed away. So when acid is applied, it only bites areas that were unexposed. Meaning that if you place a photographic negative on top of the ashphalt-coated plate, you get a positive image from the plate if printing intaglio.

    It strikes me that aquatint dust often has Syrian Ashphalt in it. To do 'aquatint' etching, aquatint dust is distributed over the copperplate and then the plate is heated to partially melt the particles into place.

    Finally, my question is could one get a direct positive image this way... use pure Syrian ashphaltto create and aquatint ground, expose the plate in a large format camera, wash off the unhardened grains with solvent, then acid etch. Now, if the plate was printed as a relief print (which does not require enormous pressure) rather than intaglio, would it result in a positive?

  2. #2
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    Syrian Ashphalt

    Doc:

    The short answer is yes. However, you might get to where you want to go quicker by using a digital negative on gravure tissue, and then apply it to a copper plate and develop, etch, and process it following standard copper plate gravure procedures. Another option is the polymer gravure plates that are available, and don't require quite the harsh processing. I think that there are enough variables in copper plate gravure that you don't need to throw in exposure in the camera to make things really confusing.

    The problem is that Autotype (the only producer of photo-gravure tissue) recently ceased production. Dick Sullivan of Bostick and Sullivan is developing a replacement, though, that should be available soon. Here is a forum where there is some fascinating reading on the development of his procedure:
    http://bostick-sullivan.invisionzone.com/index.php?s=ba345d9b176130eba0202c11fc531dc5&showf orum=59
    Some of the best photo-gravurists in the world are posting here and are very interested in the outcome of Dick's process development.

  3. #3

    Syrian Ashphalt

    Quote Originally Posted by 560
    Doc:

    The short answer is yes. However, you might get to where you want to go quicker by using a digital negative on gravure tissue, and then apply it to a copper plate and develop, etch, and process it following standard copper plate gravure procedures. ]Another option is the polymer gravure plates that are available, and don't require quite the harsh processing. ........
    Have a look here:
    http://f295.f295.org/uploads/Blah.pl?m-1190219252/s-14/#num14

  4. #4

    Syrian Ashphalt

    Quote Originally Posted by 1667
    Have a look here:
    http://f295.f295.org/uploads/Blah.pl?m-1190219252/s-14/#num14
    Thanks Taco, I had been looking for that. But it's still photopolymer. I guess I shouldn't have read the pinme 09 thread! But it got me thinking... what's the simplest way to get a photo! AND I think I got it wrong when I posted... my logic was astray

    Niepce's original was either a brass or pewter plate (depending who you beleive) coated with Syrian asphalt dissolved in lavender oil. It was exposed in a camera obscura for 8 hours. The print looks like a positive. Since there was no intermediate negative, I now realise it must be be an intaglio print. DOH! :'(

    The ashphalt hardens (and turns white) on exposure to light, unexposed ashphalt is washed off, exposing the bare metal. So when etched, the light parts of the image would stand proud (protected from acid) and would be white when printed. Similarly, the dark areas would be etched, take up ink and be black. Whew, glad I explained that to myself.

    So, has anybody tried making a Niepce photo with Syrian ashphalt?

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