Welcome to a journey, a exciting history into a wonderful darkroom paper. I’ll reveal the secrets and passion behind Neobrom in this story.
It all started, recently when I acquired “Neobrom Chamois” paper from a classified ad online. It was a sealed box of 50 sheets of 30x40cm photographic darkroom paper. The seller mentioned it was stored in a cool place and most important it wasn’t opened.
The package arrived wrapped in brown paper and sure enough it wasn’t opened. The brown tape was all in place on the back of the box on each side.
Proceeding to use a surgical knife to cut around between the seems of the carton while ensuring not to damage the precious contents. I then decided it would be a good idea to switch off the lights as a precautional measure. Under the glow of safe light, my home-made red LEDs strip above in my darkroom ceiling, I opened the box. Its innards were a typical black plastic bag which I’ve seen many times before with darkroom paper to protect the paper from light leaks. I was confident that paper was not exposed to light.
Unfortunately no instructions or leaflets was found, neither outside or inside the bag. So I’m still in the dark concerning this paper. All I know is that its a Baryt type paper with a normal gradation. I’m reckoning it was a special batch to reproduce the old Neobrom emulsion for the 1930s.
Nonetheless I produced a test strip but realised my paper developer was spent. It had being sitting in the tray for a few days now. The chemicals were useless. Upon new chemicals the strip test worked but I wasn’t entirely happy with the results yet. I really need to do another strip test and then after that a flashing strip test too.
Venturing onwards as I had build up a dark envelope of prints ready to be developed in the darkroom. From looking at the test strip, I made an educated guess as one does to get a ball park on the time to expose under the enlarger. My exposure was ƒ/5.6 @ 100s for Lith printing effectly +1½ stops of extra light.
History of the Paper
It all began in 1909 with two guys Josef Lakomý and Alois Emil Benes running a small factory together. Making shoe creams, skin creams, inks, lubricants and household chemicals. The two of them decided to form the Neobrom company in 1913. Short after construction of a new photographic paper factory commenced. Opening it operations in the spring 1914 with the production of Chloro-bromo photographic paper, under brand ‘Neogaz’ used for portraits and specialized postcards.
Chloro-bromo photographic paper is coated with an emulsion of silver chloride mixed with a small amount of silver bromide. It is more sensitive than the previous chloride paper by a factor of ten.
Sales were poor for first couple of years. Mainly due to the lack of labour and supply of raw materials during the first world war.
In 1916 Benes pulled out of the Neobrom company and sold his share to Lakomý. Neobrom became an independent company. After the first world war production and sales increased significantly.
The hero of our story is the talented Jan Lauschmann who started taking photographs at the age of 11 when gifted a camera by his Uncle. After his teens he joined the Czech Club of Amateur Photographers in Prague in 1921. In his early twenties was on the editorial board of the Photographic Horizon magazine for over ten years. He also published many articles and photographs at the time. Lauschmann studied chemical engineering at the Institute of Chemical Technology in Prague. Later to become a chemist at the Remed pharmaceutical factory in Prague. However it was until Neobrom needed someone for the their new lab. Jan was the right man for the job with his love for photography and knowledge of chemistry.
In 1925 Neobrom established its own chemical laboratory, the management of which was entrusted to Lauschmann. At this stage he was prominent professor of chemistry, photographer and even a pioneer of colour photography. He worked for Neobrom until 1951 as the technical director,
- 1925–1948 chief chemist, head of operations and technical director,
- 1948–1951 head of the Neobrom plant and at the same time technologist for photographic chemistry at the company directorate of the Society for Metallurgical and Chemical Production in Prague.
Jan Lauschmann’s photographic work was influenced by Drahomír Josef Růžička. Drahomír was known for photographs of urban landscapes and city life and considered “the father of modern Czech photography”. A gelatin silver print (11 ¾” x 11 ¼” / 29.8 x 28.5 cm.) from 1927, “The Evening on Our Staircase” went from $6850 at Auction in New York back in 2017 of Jan’s work.
After Neobrom, he worked as a teacher at the Military Academy in Brno, where he was appointed professor in 1956 . He lectured here until 1963 . In the years 1964 – 1976 he lectured on the physico-chemical foundations of photographic processes, photographic technology and scientific photography at the Technical University of Applied Sciences in Prague and in the years 1968 – 1974 also at the Technical University of Applied Sciences in Pardubice.
He continued to photograph and produce work well into his eighties.
After the second world war
Before the second world war the company expanded its manufacturing to include Neobrom silver-bromide enlarging papers under the brands NeoDur, NeoBrom and Sametin.
After the death of the founder of the company Josef Lakomý in 1933, the company was continued by his sons and business partners.
- 1948 February, the Communist party came to rule. The company along with its assets were incorporated into a state-owned enterprise.
- 1950 1st of January, Neobrom was incorporated into Fotochemy, np Hradec Králové.
- In 1995 Fotochemy became privatised as FOMA Bohemia.
Some time in the 2000s
So back to the present, the “Neobrom Chamois” paper that I’ve bought, it must have been produced after 1993 as it states, ‘Made in Czech Republic’ however I guess from the condition of the packaging it maybe from the 2000s.
However the company ‘Foto Alexander Wien’ seems to no longer exist. Looking at the telephone number ‘0222’, this area code for Vienna was replaced in 2004 and removed in 2007. So its in the early 2000s which is a reasonable guess.
Writing back to the seller, he kindly replied that paper was over 18 years old, so that makes it as 2005. So my guess was in the right range at least. It’s a good method to determine the age of a paper.
I’m speculating that this paper is a remake of the 1930’s paper by the Neobrom Company of the former Czechoslovakia era. The paper is of baryta paper quality which was used for example by the photographer Jan Saudek. The paper was possibly made by an independent company. As the original Neobrom paper company was merged into FOMA in 1950.
Most likely FomaTone is the closest in the Foma range to this paper (if you can find it). It is described as follows , “Fiber based paper with variable contrast and standard white double-weight paper base. Depending on the developer, the image tone can be varied from slightly warm to very warm, at which point Fomatone takes on a slightly green tone in the blacks, similar to the old Neobrom Iodine-silver papers from Brünn. Because of it’s relatively low light sensitivity and classic emulsion, this paper is especially good for contact prints.”
What I gleaned from the description above is ‘ similar to the old Neobrom Iodine-silver papers from Brünn.‘ That this may well be an Iodine Silver paper. It has long been known that photographic emulsions containing silver iodide appear to be much less sensitive than do silver bromide. But I’m still unsure, it is to be sure fibre based i.e double weighted!
While FomaBorm is describe as follows, “FOMABROM is universal high sensitive black-and-white enlarging paper on baryta coated double weight paper base. It is made of silver chlorobromide emulsion with neutral to mildly warm image tone. The paper is noted for its rich half-tone scale from shiny white to saturated black. Its high speed makes possible to use larger lens diaphragm values even at enlarging on large sheet sizes. The paper shows the great developing latitude. It is available in glossy, semi-matt, matt, fine grained lustre and silk surfaces and contrast range from soft to hard (1 – 4) and in all current sizes. “
I’m guessing big time! That’s it’s some cross between FomaBrom and FomaTone variant. FomaTone is known to ‘snowball’ using EasyLith so I’m thinking the emulsion is even more basic and more to the original 1930’s recipe. That’s all I know for now but my prints so far are achieving results.
What I do know is that the paper, Liths for me in about 3-4 minutes, that darn fast in comparison to a good paper at 7-8 minutes. The tones are soft and glorious, the black are more greenish and not jet black. In conclusion it’s super easy to Lith with. The results are amazing, I suspect I will be using this paper more frequent. It may even be suitable for Bromoil