British photographic history

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Documentation of the Orotone (Curt-Tone) process?

I've been making my own silver gelatine glass plates and am exploring ways to print and present positives.

I'm intrigued by historical orotones such as the ones produced by Edward S. Curtis in early 20th Century.

There are a few contemporary techniques employed to produce a positive on a glass with a gold/bronze background but my early attempts with these acrylic paint or faux gold leaf based methods look pretty tacky - more like a novelty mirror than the subtle works from the 1920s!

Is anyone aware of historical sources describing the orotone process as used pre WW2? The most detail I've found online refers to banana oil and bronze powder but I suspect that is apocryphal.

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Hi Roger. I believe banana oil and bronze powder was used in the past.

When I was at Ilford we did plates for a Centennial version of Curtis' work. We ended up using a gold metallic paint spray. As I recall the services of a motobike fuel tank artist.

I did publish quite a lot of stuff on this, some recently. Let me know if you are interested. Short one here

Dr Alan Hodgson ASIS HonFRPS FInstP

President of The Royal Photographic Society

Read the President’s News

Hi Alan,

I hadn't heard of the Curtis Centennial Project. When I google I mainly get people selling prints with the compelling project description on the back. Yes I'd be really interested to know more. Any reading you can pass my way would be most appreciated.

My heart does sink with mention of spray paint though. I thought black spray paint might be a way to back my ambrotypes but it required setting a spray booth (cardboard box) in the garden and multiple coats to get a finish. I switched to making them on black acrylic instead!

Thanks,

Roger


Alan Hodgson said:

Hi Roger. I believe banana oil and bronze powder was used in the past.

When I was at Ilford we did plates for a Centennial version of Curtis' work. We ended up using a gold metallic paint spray. As I recall the services of a motobike fuel tank artist.

I did publish quite a lot of stuff on this, some recently. Let me know if you are interested. Short one here

Dr Alan Hodgson ASIS HonFRPS FInstP

President of The Royal Photographic Society

Read the President’s News

Hi Roger. An overview of the Curtis Centennial Project appeared in the BJP 06.10.99 pp16-17, followed by a short feature in The Times 11.10.99.

If your French is up to it there was a more detailed article in Le Photographe #1580 in December 2000 pp58-60 (we did an exhibition in Paris at that time).

Hopefully attached is our workflow diagram, from a paper I did for the RPS Digital Imaging Group.

Hope this helps.

Dr Alan Hodgson ASIS HonFRPS FInstP

President of The Royal Photographic Society

Read the President’s News

 

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Hello Roger

This is parallel to your enquiry rather than a direct reply! There is another process for producing prints that look very like Orotones, but worked in a completely different way. Indeed, some prints of this sort have been mistakenly called Orotones even by museum professionals. The process was invented by Hanbeh Mizuno in Japan, around the same time as Curtis was flourishing; it is summarised at https://www.refracted.net/mizuno.html

Since I wrote that note, more evidence has come to light and I suspect (but can't prove) that all the glass-based examples (Type D in the note, which are the ones that could be mistaken for Orotones) date from after the death of the original inventor, and were probably made by his family, continuing the original business of his studio but with technical advances.

John Marriage

Fascinating John, Thank you .

I'm not sure I totally understand how the process worked. In my mind I have then negative sticking to the initial print. It sounds like a transferred gum bichromate print. Not something I'll rush to trying.

At the moment I'm exploring metallic gold acrylic sheet as a backing - a totally 21st Century solution.

Roger

Over the years I have tried to find something on Orotone to no avail. It seems to have been a process named by Curtis himself. As suggested here, I suspect Curtis adapted a known process for applying paint etc.

This might be of some help:

 BRONZING SOLUTIONS FOR PAINTS.
I.
The so-called banana solution
(the name being derived from its odor)

which is used in applying bronzes of
various
kinds, is usually a mixture of
equal parts of amyl acetate, acetone,
and benzine, with just enough pyr
oxyline dissolved therein to give it
body. Powdered bronze is put into a

bottle containing this mixture and the

paint so formea applied with a brush.
The thin covering
of pyroxyline that is
left after the evaporation of the liquid
protects the bronze from the air and
keeps it from being wiped off by the
cleanly housemaid. Tarnished picture

frames and tarnished chandeliers to
which
a gold bronze has been applied
from such
a solution will look fresh and

new for a long time. Copper bronze as
well as gold bronze and the various col¬
ored bronze
powders can be used in the
“banana solution” for making very
pretty advertising signs for use in the
drug store. Lettering and bordering
work upon the
signs can be done with it.
Several very
small, stiff painters’ brushes
are needed for such work and they must
Digitized by
490 PAINTS
be either kept in the solution when not in
use, or, better still, washed in benzine or
acetone immediately after use and put
away for future
service. As the “banana
solution" is volatile, it must be kept well
corked.
II.A good bronzing solution for paint
tins, applied by dipping, is made by dis¬
solving Syrian aspbaltum in
spirits of
turpentine, etc., and thinning it down
with these solvents to the proper bronze
color and consistency.
A little good
boiled oil will increase the adherence

From 1907 Henley's 20th Century Book of Recipes.

 

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