Recently I had an opportunity to study, first-hand, photogravures from the Stieglitz Collection archived at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The collection contains several examples of photogravures from the pictorialist and Photo-Secession era. The highlights were a set of large-format plates of Stieglitz’s early New York images – all of which appeared in Camera Work, as well as an extensive array of James Craig Annan gravures.
While I was there I had the privilege of speaking with Malcolm Daniel, Curator of the Department of Photographs, about photogravure. Daniel, an authority on Edouard Baldus
as well as the early history of photogravure in nineteenth-century France, agrees that some photogravures, when made under the direct supervision of the artist, can be considered original prints. He cited the Stieglitz plates in Camera Work as examples. When comparing Stieglitz’s large format photogravures to his original 4X5 contact prints, it is clear that Stieglitz tapped the potential of the photogravure process to bring his images to life. What I didn’t realize before my visit, however, was how closely the smaller format plates in Camera Work matched the large plates Stieglitz made for himself.
I am left with no doubt that the Stieglitz gravures in Camera Work can and should be considered original vintage prints. On the other hand, as Daniel pointed out, this is not true for all Camera Work gravures. For example the Hill and Adamson plates, although faithful and beautiful, were made posthumous. In addition, Hill and Adamson made salt prints which have characteristics all their own.
On a side note, when visiting the study room in the Department of Photography at the Met guests are asked to read and sign a document that provides print-handling guidelines. I thought it might be of interest so I have included it here…
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