This past week I had a telephone conversation with Jon Goodman. We discussed many topics including techniques of conserving Chine-collé gravures, the production history of Steichen’s Early Years portfolio as well as the collective state of consciousness with regard to appreciation of the photogravure process.
Jon has been fighting an uphill battle from day one. Unless one takes the time to study photogravures and the process, it is difficult to appreciate their significance. Photography is an art that is closely tied to craftsmanship. In many cases, it is the combination of the content of an image and the craftsmanship employed in its printing that brings it to life. The subtle qualities of a print have a potent influence on its impact. These qualities mostly operate on a sub-conscious level. Many casual consumers of photography as well as some active collectors are not aware of the potent influence that print quality has on the effectiveness of the art. Thus a lack of appreciation of the fine qualities of photogravure combined with steady growth of computer generated pigment printing techniques is creating a challenging environment for those, like Jon, who make their living printing photogravures.
A function of this site is to promote photogravure so that workers like Jon and others will continue to be appreciated. Any information I come across that can strengthen photogravure’s position in this rapidly expanding arena of fine art photography, I will try to post on this blog.
Below is a letter written by Paul Strand to James Craft in 1968. Mr. Craft was writing his Doctoral Thesis on photogravure and was able to hear some of Strand’s opinions first hand.
I hope this letter serves as further evidence that many photogravures are not merely mechanical reproductions, but closely supervised original prints.
July 23, 1968
Dear Mr. Craft: Yes the book reached me safely and I hope it was useful to your work on photogravure. In response to your two questions: no, I have never made any photogravure plates myself, but I have done a great deal of supervising in conjunction with the positive making and printing of my own work – beginning with the Photogravure and Color Co. in 1940 when Mr. Charles Furth ran it. Since then I worked with four printing houses in Switzerland, Italy, Germany, and England. The reason of course for my intervention is that people cannot do what you want done, unless they have a clear idea of what you have in your mind. Even a good go-by print is not sufficient, really.
As for photographers who made there own gravure plates and printed them – Coburn, of course, also Craig Annan, who worked in Edinburgh as a professional maker of gravures at the period of the photo session, was truly skilled – far superior to Coburn as a gravure maker. He was also a good photographer, some of whose work were in camera work, but not many. What else he may have done as a photographer should be investigated. The wonderful set of D.O. Hill gravures in Camera Work were made by Annan, I am quite sure, and from Hill’s original negatives – a superlative job.
Mr. Stieglitz never made gravures himself, I am surprised to know about it but perhaps you have evidence about it. He did of course also supervise and maintain way control of all the gravures made for Camera Work. Besides Annan, many, perhaps most, of these were made by Bruckmanverlag-Munich and when the war 1914-1918 came, the gravures of my work in both nos. 48, and 49-50, were made by Manhattan Photogravure Company in New York, owned by a man named Phillips, which on the whole are quite good.
The Mexican Portfolio, first edition, was printed by the Photogravure and Color Company (Mr. Fruth) in 1940. The lacquering of these gravures was an experiment of mine, and the first, I think, done after the printing by a professional sprayer, aided by myself and a number of good friends.
If you make some gravures at New Mexico, I would be very interested to see some proofs.
All the best to you.