Fresson - Monochrome

(1899-today) A proprietary direct carbon process, invented by Théodore-Henri Fresson in France, around 1899, after some seven years of research. It is owned by his descendants in France and by ourselves in Canada. We acquired it through lengthy negotiations with the industrialist José Ortiz Echagüe in 1979, shortly before his death.

The process belongs to the dichromated colloid group, in which a mixture of a colloid, pigment and dichromate compound creates a light-sensitive emulsion. After exposure under a negative, the non-exposed parts of the emulsion are relatively soluble and can be removed with a slight abrasive. This is usually done by pouring a mixture of sawdust and water over the print until the desired density is achieved.

The process provides extraordinary control as development occurs in bright light, typically under a 200 Watt flood light, and can take anywhere from three to 30 minutes. The process offers a wide range of effects, by varying the type of pigment, support or developing procedure, etc.

Fresson was very popular among pictorialists, who could buy the paper in a variety of colors. The paper was imported and sold in America for a period of time before WW II. C. Puyo in France, was one of the early pictorialists who used the Fresson process. Frank Horvat, Bernard Plossu, Lucien Clergue, Sheila Metzner and Sarah Moon are contemporary photographers who have had some of their work printed using this process. The best known exponent of the Fresson process, however, is the late José Ortiz Echagüe, whose fabulous work can be seen in major museums, including that of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain, England, the Photographic Society of America, in Philadelphia, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The highly coveted Fresson process has attracted considerable attention, as it can provide superb permanent result in monochrome or color, and is the last early proprietary photographic process of importance still jealously guarded by a handful of people, namely the descendants of the inventor, in France and ourselves in Canada, even though we have not had time to exploit it commercially in recent years. If we keep this process we intend to print and publish one or two portfolios a year.

The first print displayed here, about 25 x 30 cm, was originally taken on 35 mm infrared film, hence the grain in the image. The negative was enlarged to final size and contact printed on Fresson paper coated with an opaque lampblack.  The second print is  “Aquadoras Andaluzas.” by the late José Ortiz Echagüe, 42 x 30 cm.

Many companies and individuals have tried to imitate the Fresson paper for the past 100 years. They all failed in their attempts but their efforts are documented in our book Gum Dichromate and Other Direct Carbon Processes, from Artigue to Zimmerman. (Nadeau, Encyclopedia, p. xxx).

fressoncathedral3786e Fresson monochrome Print © Luis Nadeau. 200 x 300 mm

José Ortiz Echagüe, “Aquadoras Andaluzas.” Fresson, prior to 1955. 420 x 300 mm José Ortiz Echagüe, “Aquadoras Andaluzas.” Fresson, prior to 1955. 420 x 300 mm

Read the Feature Article: The Fresson Process