The dry waxed paper of Gustave Le Gray

Search for a contemporary formulation



            The publication of the dry waxed paper, an alternative of the Henry Fox Talbot's calotype, will be 150 years old the next year. We propose through this research a historical, technical and experimental study of this original photographic process. Our problematic consisted to seek a current chemical formulation, without the use of toxic reagents of Le Gray's formulation, and with incorporation of different products, modern or not, at the time of the chemical treatment or at the time of the oiling of paper.

            We spent a lot of time in the literature to find treatises and references about Le Gray. We also consulted books of the end of the twentieth century speaking about paper negative. After this significant work passed in libraries, we looked at the question of paper manufacture, at the time of Le Gray and nowadays, as well as the various products of oiling to use.

            Then we were able to begin our experimental work, firstly by studying the interaction of wax in paper, using densitometric measurement, photographs at the optical microscope etc… After this step, we researched an acceptable result according to Le Gray's formulation. This work was longer than expected, considering the multiplicity of the parameters coming into play, and the difficulty to find a compatible paper with the process. After the development of a satisfied protocol in correlation with the formulation of Le Gray, we tried to modify it. The study related to iodization, sensitisation, and the development ; afterwards, transparency of papers according to the mode of oiling.

            All this research was carried out with a mode of exposure per contact, by using a modulated range of density. We also wanted to test the process under its usual conditions of shooting. Thus, some tests were realized using a photographic room, outside, with twenty minutes exposure time in average. We printed positives from obtained negatives by comparing the modes of contact printing on modern photographic paper and salted paper. The whole of our work is included in the practical part of the research, visible at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure Louis Lumière.


Nicolas Le Guern,

June 2000.