Headstone Photos -- How is this Done?

greenspun.com : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I visited a central California cemetary over the weekend and noticed more than a few headstones and markers had photos of the deceased on them. These seemed to date mostly from 1910 to 1928. The photos appeared to be printed (if that's the right word) on highly polished white porcelin-like material. The image was full tone and sharp. The image tone was in all cases similar to what you get with a really solid selenium toner on conventional materials. (i.e., way beyond egg plant to purple) What was remarkable was the fact that these "prints" all looked very good. Not faded in the least despite 80 years of exposure to the elements. If anybody knows, how did they do this back then? Thanks for any answers.

-- Kevin Crisp (KRCrisp@aol.com), August 30, 2001



I'm very happy to see you ask this question. I just finished photographing (from thier headstone) my Great Grand Parents. I used the 4x5 and had a hell of a time getting set up but the 11x14s are just hard to believe. I have done this several times before for friends and have allways wondered just how they did that!? Then darn Porcelin Photo's are holding up better than the Rock of Ages they are attached to!

Thanks for asking, should be a piece of cake for this group.


-- R.L. (Mac) McDonald (rmacsteam@aol.com), August 31, 2001.

Hi All,

How about contacting the Rock of Ages Corp in Barre Vt.

-- Bill Jefferson (jefferw@together.net), August 31, 2001.

interesting post. Well known art photographer George Krause did an entire documentary "headstone portraits" series.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (evphoto@heartstone.com), August 31, 2001.

Hello, I loked for that documentary on the website but didn't find it could you give some details about how I might find the "headstone portraits" documentary.



-- Clark King (ckphotographyusa@netscape.net), September 02, 2001.

Hi Clark, try this link: Qui Riposa

You can also find under "Qui Riposa" at www.georgekrause.com

-- Ellis Vener (ellis@ellisvener.com), September 02, 2001.

I have an 11th ed. of the Encyclopedea Britannica which mentions people coating colloidon emulsions on to porcelein, presumably for this sort of application. But I wouldn't expect a gelatin layer to survive as well as some of these have done, however well encapsulated. The Moutaineer's graveyard in Zermatt has several examples from the 1880s which look pristine today, despite having been outdoors for over a century.

So I suspect there is some process for transferring pigment to a glaze which is then fired. Several of the early processes, and the later gum-bichromate developments from them, could be adapted to do this, as they are essentially photomechanical printing processes, but I'm guessing and don't know for sure.

-- Struan Gray (struan.gray@sljus.lu.se), September 03, 2001.


This process is based on the facts that colloids lose their tackiness on exposure to light in contact with a bicromate. It is rarely used for paper prints, and its chief application has been for the preparation of reversed and duplicate negatives for photomechanical work, or for making ceramic enamels. For the latter process the image was produced on collodionized glass, to facilitate stripping, and the image transfered to the enamel plaques."

From "Photographic facts and formulas" by Wall and Jordan Revised by Carrol.

You can also find the formulas for this process in the book


-- Lars Hagglund (laha@ljusdal.se), September 03, 2001.

Thanks Lars, it's nice to have some facts. Does the book say what the pigmented material is? I.e. what makes the final black parts of the on-porcelein image?

-- Struan Gray (struan.gray@sljus.lu.se), September 04, 2001.

Struan, Any inert powder pigment could be used, says the book. Ive also found a part in the book about carbon prints on porcelain. I will send a scan to you personally. Lars

-- Lars Hagglund (laha@ljusdal.se), September 04, 2001.

The pigment must resist heat of course

-- Lars Hagglund (laha@ljusdal.se), September 04, 2001.

Sorry about coming to this late, but my curiosity was piqued, and I vaguely remembered something about it. Anyway, I finally tracked down some snippets of info in an old Dictionary of Photography, under the heading 'ceramics and porcelain'.
There are 4 basic methods of doing this, but all of them start with a specially manufactured enamel plaque. The enamel is a soft vitreous ceramic on a copper base.
The 4 methods given are:
1 ) Sustitution process, where a platinum, palladium, gold or other metallic print is made on the enamel.
2 ) Powder process, as mentioned above.
3 )Carbro or carbon printing on the enamel.
4 ) Transfer of a processed colloidal or albumen emulsion onto the enamel surface.
After any of these processes, the image is coated with a low-temperature transparent glaze, and the plaqued is then fired.
I've been unable to accurately date the book that this was taken from. My guess is 1920 to 1930.
Anyone know a helpful potter?

-- Pete Andrews (p.l.andrews@bham.ac.uk), September 06, 2001.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ