Determining the Rare and Elusive Flexichrome

For a conservator of photos, the correct identification of the system used to build a

For a conservator of photos, the correct identification of the system used to build a print is an significant and integral portion of what we do, since there are lots of varieties of processes and distinct sorts of photos have different mechanisms of deterioration. Appropriately figuring out photographic processes helps us acquire far better treatment of each and every specific photograph in the assortment. When I been given the photograph below to inspect and get ready for exhibition, I was completely ready to jump proper in.

Herbert Lyman Emerson

Very little is known about this print and its maker, Herbert Lyman Emerson. At initially look, this image seems like it was manufactured for advertisement you can envision it in a journal or on a big billboard. This assumption is supported by the following clues: considerable manipulation with an airbrush, usually found on originals utilised in advertising and marketing scoring or crop strains that give methods to frame the photograph and most of all, the way it pops out at the viewer. This photograph was composed and manipulated to draw our attention. 

James VanDerZee

A hand-colored black-and-white gelatin silver print

Initially, the Emerson print was assumed to be a hand-coloured gelatin silver print, just like the impression higher than by James Van Der Zee from the 1930s, however there is a clear difference in the colour vibrancy and the decision of coloration software among the two. The background in Van Der Zee’s photograph continues to be black-and-white the colorist applied a least of colour to make the matter stand out and not overload the impression with paint. By contrast, the Emerson print was absolutely colored.

I use a microscope nearly every day. It is an necessary tool and a practical good friend at any time. Less than magnification, the Emerson print displays brushstrokes and airbrush manipulation on the floor.

This microscopic examination reveals no specks of silver, and as gelatin silver prints consist of moment silver particles embedded in gelatin, this suggests this hand-colored photograph is not a gelatin silver print, as was at first believed. So what else could it be?

A next important clue that appeared after speedy visible evaluation is the presence of what is named a differential gloss involving the dim and mild locations of the impression. Differential gloss is brought on by unique thicknesses in the photographic layer: in which the gelatin is thickest, the floor is glossiest wherever it is thin, it is matte. This outcome is an uneven gloss on the surface area, a widespread function of specific photographic processes like the carbon procedure or the carbro procedure, a colour photographic method applied in advertising and marketing and other commercial purposes in the 1940s and ’50s.

The carbro print earlier mentioned was a publicity shot of the comedian and actor Lucille Ball. Like the Emerson photograph, carbro prints normally display vivid shades and a characteristic differential gloss, originating from the stacking of layers of pigmented gelatin—yellow, magenta, and cyan—that kind the impression. The colour vibrancy is comparable to the Emerson print. On the other hand, two key attributes of the carbro are missing from our print of the happy worker: the presence of pigment particles embedded in the gelatin layer and misregistration of stacked colour layers.

The illustrations or photos underneath, taken with the microscope, assist illustrate what is meant pigment particles and misregistration. 

In the picture to the remaining you see small yellow, cyan, and a handful of magenta dots these are the pigments utilized to type the full color picture. The picture to the ideal displays a slight misregistraton, which is what takes place when the coloration layers are not stacked exactly in correspondence with each other. The magenta layer is slightly misaligned all-around the white of the eye. There is some cyan misalignment all-around the iris and yellow in the inner aspect of the eye. When you appear at the print as a complete, these features go unnoticed. It is only when you zoom in that the come to be seen. These factors are critical to a carbro print the absence of both of those of them canceled out the possibility of it becoming a carbro print.

Introduction to Flexichrome

Operating out of solutions, I consulted with my colleagues who advised a very little-identified approach generally made use of in marketing in the mid-20th century.

Manner photograph, about 1955

Warsaw Studios, Inc. Gelatin silver print with used colour (Flexichrome). George Eastman Museum, gift of the 3M Foundation, ex-collection Louis Walton Sipley. Courtesy of the George Eastman Museum

Normally mistaken for carbro owing to its differential gloss, constant tone, and lively shades, Flexichrome was 1st produced by Jack Crawford (a New York photographer, not Hannibal Lecter’s nemesis) in the early 1930s it was later on manufactured and promoted by Kodak. Making a Flexichrome was similar to “painting by number” but in its place of creating a duplicate of a well known portray, you paint your possess photograph.

The actions of coloring a Flexichrome. Directions ended up provided in a booklet with the obtain of a Flexichrome coloring set.

Eastman Kodak Company. Kodak Flexichrome Course of action: A Kodak Color Facts Book E78 (Rochester, NY: Eastman Kodak Company, 1950) 20–21.

There is a fantastic offer of flexibility above the last image. If you want a blue jacket when the primary subject matter was donning a purple jacket, you can make it so. This is why the Flexichrome was specially well-liked for commercials.

Instance of unique color combinations 1 could reach with the Flexichrome approach

Eastman Kodak Firm. Kodak Flexichrome Method: A Kodak Color Details E-book E78 (Rochester, NY: Eastman Kodak Firm, 1950) 35.

Confirming my Hypothesis

Coming throughout a Flexichrome print is instead unheard of as the course of action was not extremely common. Advertisers and professional photographers did not typically keep on to their function-in-progress photographs, and as we have found, it is tough to identify a Flexichrome as it has lots of attributes of other processes that are deceptive to the untrained viewer.

So, here’s what we had so considerably: On inspection with the bare eye we noticed a brilliant coloration image devoid of fading or discoloration and with differential gloss and managing marks that reveal its use in advertisement. Inspection with a microscope showed us a steady tone, brushstrokes, and paint specks from an airbrush. There is only 1 colour photographic process—Flexichrome—that uses direct colour application with a paint brush alternatively than photochemical interactions of coloring dyes to layer or compose a colour graphic.

Conservators on a regular basis count on analytical procedures to establish chemical aspects current in products the details created and interpreted with the enable of our experts is priceless for the care of the selection and can help us piece together the story of an item. For the next action, I enlisted the help of conservation scientist Maria Kokorri to carry out X-ray fluorescence (XRF) evaluation on our photograph.

A moveable handheld XRF spectrometer is a nondestructive analytical device, which indicates that examination can be executed straight on the item, without touching it or eliminating a sample from it. Chemical aspects absorb component of the X-rays sent at them with the spectrometer and will mirror individuals X-rays in an altered sort that is one of a kind to every aspect, like a fingerprint. The instrument will history these alerts and develop a spectrum that we can go through.

Our results? XRF analysis of the Emerson print unveiled the absence of silver, a defining factor in gelatin silver pictures, as perfectly as an absence of chromium, a chemical identified in carbro prints. Mixed with the other evidence, we now experienced all we essential to conclude that this was in truth a Flexichrome.

The task of a conservator is under no circumstances straightforward. Currently being in a position to mix scientific analysis with meticulous observation assisted us on this hunt for answers. In the text of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle “Education under no circumstances ends, Watson. It is a sequence of classes, with the biggest for the final.”

The subsequent lesson awaits.

—Nayla Maaruf, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Photograph Conservation, Conservation and Science

If you’d like to study about distinct photographic processes and the photographs they make, look at out the Graphics Atlas. It is an awesome resource.

Topics