View Full Version : (Asphalt) Heliography

Peter York
9-Apr-2014, 12:50
Hi all,

Has anyone here tried heliography? Apparently this was the first photographic process, and the materials employed include bitumen of Judea (asphalt), and lavender oil for the washing. I'm looking for any information on the process. A quick search yielded this work: Heliography & physautotype : dabbling in pre-Daguerrean photographic processes / Howard F. Efner / El Gato Macho Press / 2007. I might be able to view this work at a nearby library.

I used to work at a geotechnical engineering firm that did extensive asphalt testing, so I probably have access to this material. I was thinking of using a non-traditional substrate such as a concrete slab, with a digital negative, exposed to the sun.

Any info is much appreciated.


9-Apr-2014, 13:34
This is only a little bit related to your post, but back in 1970 I was in printmaking in college and we used asphaltum, a thick brown syrup to coat limestone, copper and zinc plates to prepare them for making a printing plate. After the removal of some of the asphaltum skin, an acid would be applied, to etch the surface that was exposed. The early experiments of Niepce were related to this process I think, but he used sunlight and it's warmth to harden the asphaltum. This relates it to the gum bichromate process still in use, where UV light hardens the gum arabic (mixed with dichromate) and the water washes away the soft stuff. The most current information you might find, I suggest, is in the printmaking field. Niepce's exposure took all day. What you would need to do is find a way to quicken the hardening with a smaller quantity of light, i.e., a way of sensitizing the asphaltum. I don't know if Niepce etched his pewter plate after washing it in oil. That would have beenthe natural process, etching the bare metal. Then it would have been a matter of getting the hardened asphaltum off and inking the plate to make a print. it's an interesting idea, unique in the world of alternative processes.