he photographs in Emil Mayer’s portfolio Wiener Typen are printed using a photographic process called bromoil—a process that Mayer himself helped to develop. (He was, in fact, internationally known as an expert in bromoil, and wrote a classic textbook on the process.) Little known today, bromoil was once considered one of the most beautiful processes in photography; Mayer himself called it “the most perfect, flexible, and noble photographic art process.” The most striking thing about bromoil prints is that they look more like etchings or lithographs than like other photographs. With their characteristically grainy, dotted appearance, they have a suggestive and timeless quality that is uniquely beautiful.

The bromoil process is essentially a process of transformation, which takes a finished photographic print and turns it into something that looks entirely different. It begins with the printing of a photograph on ordinary bromide paper. The silver that forms the visible image is then bleached away, an act which alters the gelatin layer underneath so that, after soaking the print in water, the image can be recreated through the application of oil pigments. The pigments are applied—laboriously—with a brush, until the picture is once again visible. The distinctive mark of a bromoil print is that the image is made of brushed-on ink rather than silver, and this, along, with its surface texture, accounts for its resemblance to a lithograph or etching.

The bromoil process also allowed for almost complete control over the look of the final print. To photographers like Mayer, this was a critical advantage. He could choose from a selection of oil pigments to make prints of any shade or color. By varying the touch of his brush, he could alter the grain of the image; by applying more or less ink, he could make any part of the print darker or lighter. (In many places in Viennese Types, we can see areas where he applied so little ink the image all but fades away—an intended effect, as he found excessive detail “as disturbing as a rampant weed.”) Bromoil was a demanding process, but there was also a kind of magic to it, felt most strongly when the bromoil artists applied pigment to the blank print spread before them and began to see the image slowly reappear, in ink.

In the book, Viennese Types, all of Mayer’s bromoil prints are reproduced in their actual size, and are remarkably faithful to the originals, which are quite magically beautiful.

home | about Viennese Types | about the bromoil process | links
praise for Viennese Types | virtual gallery | buy Viennese Types