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4 Most Dangerous Photographic Processes

Most dangerous photography processes

At Alternative Processes, we place a strong emphasis on health and safety when working with alternative photographic techniques. It's crucial to understand that, without proper handling, photographic chemicals can pose significant hazards.

Have you ever wondered about the dangers present in the history of photography? Let’s explore four historical photographic processes that came with considerable risks, shedding light on how far we've come in terms of safety.

X-Ray Photography

Wilhelm Röntgen's groundbreaking discovery in 1895, capturing an X-ray photograph of his wife's hand skeleton, revolutionised medical imaging. However, this innovation came with serious health risks, including hair loss, skin burns, and even the risk of death due to radiation exposure. Thankfully, modern practices have greatly improved safety measures, significantly reducing these hazards in X-ray photography.

Most dangerous photography processes
Sciagraphs (X-ray photographs) from ' (1897) by James Green. Albumen prints, on card mounts;


The Daguerreotype, invented by Louis Daguerre in 1839, was a significant milestone in making photography available to the public. However, this process involved handling mercury vapor, which posed severe health risks, affecting the lungs, kidneys, and the nervous system. In contemporary times, many artists prefer the safer Becquerel daguerreotype process, eliminating the dangers of mercury exposure.

Most dangerous photography processes
[Cornelius Conway Felton with His Hat and Coat], early 1850s. Daguerreotype.

Gum Bichromate & Carbon printing

These techniques employ potassium bichromate, a chemical now known to be highly carcinogenic. Exposure to this substance can cause irreversible harm to the eyes, nose, lungs, and skin. Despite these risks, these processes are still in use by specialist photographers, underscoring the importance of strict safety precautions.

Most dangerous photographic processes
LEFT: gum bichromate by Robert Demachy RIGHT: Alfred Stieglitz, The Net Mender, 1894, carbon print, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1949.3.199

Wet Plate Collodion

Frederick Scott Archer's 1848 Wet Plate Collodion Process brought a significant change in photography with its enhanced portability. This method involves the use of ether, which is highly flammable and can become explosive at temperatures as low as 170 °C, even without a spark. This process, while still favored for certain artistic effects, demands rigorous safety protocols, particularly regarding ventilation and fire prevention.

Most dangerous photographic processes

In revisiting the most dangerous photographic processes, we gain a deeper appreciation for the delicate balance between artistic exploration and safety. It’s a reminder of how advancements in photography not only brought about creative breakthroughs but also led to a greater understanding and implementation of safety measures. At Alternative Processes, we're committed to offering guidance and support to those exploring the captivating world of alternative photographic techniques, ensuring both creativity and safety go hand in hand.

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