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Alternative Photographic Processes in New York State: Precautions

A resource for those looking to explore and practice alternative photographic processes in New York state.
All photographic chemistry should be addressed with a moderate level of caution for health and safety reasons. Many of the chemicals used in alternative photographic processes can be dangerous and even fatal if handled and/or stored inappropriately. All chemicals should be kept out of reach of children, pets, and ill-informed roommates. Chemicals should never be stored or prepared in or near areas where food is prepared. Chemistry should be measured and mixed in dedicated glassware with dedicated utensils. Protective eyewear and other clothing should be used when mixing or handling chemistry, including the wearing of nitrile gloves (latex is an ineffective chemical barrier). Many chemicals may have disastrous effects if combined.


Undertaking any alternative process is done at the user’s own risk, and it is important to take into consideration all additional safety warnings and instructions offered by instruction manuals, instructors, and chemical providers. is a chemical and laboratory equipment retailer based out of Dickinson, Texas. prepares comprehensive Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for most of the chemicals that they carry, and there are 1,414 MSDS documents available on their website.

For each chemical, MSDS provide a wealth of information including toxicological information, health hazards, first aid measures, fire and explosion data, accidental release measures, handling and storage, personal protection, and disposal information.

Here, we have selected and arranged the MSDS documents for the chemicals used in popular alternative photographic practices.

Photographic instructors Mark and France Scully Osterman, of Rochester, New York, advise keeping all of the MSDS documents relevant to your photographic practice printed and on-hand in a easy-to-reference binder. These documents can be used to quickly communicate with physicians and/or emergency personnel in the event of an accident.

You may wish to do the same. If you’re just getting started, simply read through to get better acquainted with the chemistry that you would like to work with.

Acetic Acid (

Ammonium Iodide (

Cadmium Bromide (

Collodion (Cellulose Nitrate) (

Ether (

Ethyl Alcohol (

Ferric ammonium citrate, brown (

Ferrous Sulphate (

Gallic Acid (

Mercury (

Nitric Acid (

Potassium Bromide (

Potassium Cyanide (

Potassium Ferricyanide (

Potassium Iodide (

Silver Nitrate (

Sodium Thiosulfate Pentahydrate (

New York State Disposal

New York State manages an interactive map of Permitted Household Hazardous Waste Collection and Storage Facilities.

It is not safe for the environment or the community to dump chemistry down the drain or outside. Similarly, chemical wastes should not go i to traditional garbage collection.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation manages permits for Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) collection and storage facilities. HHW facilities are permanent locations that receive HHW from state residents on a regular basis. These locations accept chemical waste. These sites may be municipally-operated or they may be managed a hired contractor or private entity. Using this map, you can locate the HHW facility nearest you.

Some communities provide one-to-two-day special HHW collection events throughout the year, and should provide information for these events upon request.

Wet-plate collodion requires two highly toxic controlled substances to create an image: ether and cyanide and the daguerreotype process relies on the vaporization of mercury. Under the wrong conditions, practitioners and students of daguerreotype may develop mercury poisoning. When dealing with either of these processes, it is especially advised that you take instruction from a reputable expert or institution.

New York City Restrictions

In New York City, the Community Right-to-Know Law (Local Law 26, of 1988), “requires the City to effectively regulate the storage, use, and handling of hazardous substances.” The Department of Environmental Protection oversees how hazardous substances are stored and used within the city as part of that law through its Right-to-Know (RTK) Program.


Community RTK Laws and Regulations are publicly available.

Section 24-708 indicates exemptions which apply to “owners and tenants of residential buildings that contain no commercial or manufacturing enterprise,” a category which likely applies to most NYC-based alternative photographers.


The Community RTK Hazardous Substance List includes ether, cyanide, mercury, and other poisonous and volatile chemistry found within alternative photographic practices.

The RTK Hazardous Substance List stipulates threshold reporting quantities which assign the number of minimum amount in pounds of a substance required to be reported and labeled under City law. The document also states that these numbers may be used to indicate level of hazard: the lower a substance’s TRQ, the greater its potential hazard.