RMIT Bromoil Presentation

Bromoil and pictorial photography

Jane Hinwood
Photographic Conservator
State Library of Victoria

Pictorialism as a term was coined to describe the first art movement in
photography. The movement had its origins in the United Kingdom in the late
1800s when a group of photographers seceded from the Royal Photographic
Society of Great Britain to form ‘The Linked Ring’. Members of the Ring
promoted the use of the camera as a creative instrument to produce images with
a soft impressionistic aesthetic. This group was later disbanded when Alfred
Stieglitz and the ‘Photo-Secession Group’ in America were to take photography
in another direction, portraying greater realism. Pictorialism as an avant-garde
movement was generally waning by the late 1910s.

Australian photographers were generally unaware of the swing away from
Pictorialism, so the movement enjoyed a longer life here. Curator Gael Newton,
who has published widely on Pictorial Photography in Australia, hypotheses that
this was due to the fact that American photographic journals such a
, the journal of the Photo-Secessionists, were not available in Australia.1
Certainly both British publications
Amateur Photographer and the annual
Photograms of the Year were available here. These publications were more
conservative and continued to extol the Pictorial Movement. Australian journals

Harringtons Photographic Journal and the Australasian Photo-Review, both
owned by photographic supply companies, played a large part in the wide
dissemination of technical advances, new trends and exhibitions reviews, while
advertising their own products and encouraging consumption.

The Sydney Camera Circle and the later Melbourne Camera Circle were formed
along similar lines to The Linked Ring. Members no longer wanted to follow
British trends but to develop a distinctly Australian sense of Pictorial
Photography, celebrating sunshine and the Australian landscape over English
images. The Melbourne Circle in particular held regular Salons to showcase
their work. Pictorialism was not displaced in Australia until a new movement,
Modern Photography as it became known, began to flourish in the 1930s led by
Max Dupain and a new generation of photographers who were to reject the
sentimental images of the pictorialists.

For further information on Pictorialism in Australia refer to Jack Cato,
‘The Story
of the Camera in Australia’ 1955
; Gael Newton, Silver and Grey, Angus and
Robertson, 1980; and Anne-Maree Willis,
Picturing Australia, Angus and
Robertson, 1988.

Bromoil Photography

Bromoil is one of a family of ‘pigment processes’ which were adopted by pictorial
photographers (the others were Carbon and Gum-Bichromate). What they liked
about the bromoil process was that it gave the photographer artistic license to
produce images quite different from the original bromide print. Artist Lionel
Lindsay was making bromoils in 1911, so it was not the exclusive domain of
photographers. Amateur photographers with access to photographic journals or
as members of a local photographic club would have had the means to take up
the art of the bromoil worker. The market also responded by supplying a variety
of photographic papers and inks suitable for bromoiling, to cater for the increased
In Australia, Harold Cazneaux is well known for his extensive use of the bromoil
process. In his 1925 article for
AP-R, ‘Bromoil as a Means of Artistic
Expression’, Cazneaux wrote of bromoil ‘displacing all other photo-printing
processes at our exhibitions of Pictorial Photography’.2 In this article the
technique used by Cazneaux is described and comparisons are made between
the original bromide prints and the resulting bromoil, highlighting what changes
were possible, to suppress or highlight details, when inking up a bromoil. Articles
on bromoiling and Pictorial Photography appear in
AP-R as late as 1947, when
WH Moffitt defended the use of the bromoil process in his article ‘The Status of
Pictorial Photography’.

Other Australian Pictorial Photographers known to have used the bromoil
process and in which institutions they are held are; LW Appleby who specialized
in portraiture, Monte Luke (AGNSW, NLA), John Eaton (NLA, SLV, NGV), J
Temple Stephens, William Howieson (MCC , NGV), WH Moffitt who is known to
have used paper negatives to produce his bromoils (AGNSW, NGA, NLA), Stan
Eutrope (AGNSW), Arthur Smith, Henri Mallard documented the building of the
Sydney harbour bridge (AGNSW, NGA, NLA), George J Morris produced the
largest bromoil transfers seen (NLA, NGA), Lewis Hey Sharp lectured in bromoil
(AGNSW, SLNSW and NGA), Rose Simmonds (NGA, QUT), and F Vaudry
Robinson produced coloured bromoils.

Identification of a Bromoil Print and Bromoil Transfer

Look for the characteristic irregular stipple pattern to identify a bromoil print. The
grain or stipple will vary depending on the coarseness of the brush used.

Edge definition:
On close examination the edge will appear soft, not crisp.

For a bromoil print the image is on the top and not buried in the emulsion.

Support paper:
The pigment image is on a gelatine paper base. A bromoil transfer will differ
because the image has been transferred to an art paper.

Plate mark:
A plate mark will also be present indicating that a press has been used to
transfer the image.

Conservation Issues
A properly processed bromoil print can be considered as permanent as the paper
support and the pigments used.

AGNSW: Art Gallery of New South Wales
MCC: Melbourne Camera Club
NGA: National Gallery of Australia
NGV: National Gallery of Victoria
NLA: National Library of Australia
SLNSW: State Library of New South Wales
SLV: State Library of Victoria
QUT: Queensland University of Technology

1 Gael Newton, 1979. Australian Pictorial Photography, Art Gallery of New South Wales
Catalogue, p4.

2 Harold Cazneaux ‘Bromoil as a Means of Artistic Expression’ in The Australasian Photo-Review,
August 15 1925, pp387 – 403.