The Art of the Photogravure
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November 11th, 2007

Craftsmanship and Technology

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New technology is presenting opportunities for ateliers to prepare plates more efficiently, safely and cost effectively. Photopolymer technology offers an alternate to copper plate etching. In order to limit the scope of this site, I have chosen not to include ateliers practicing the modern photopolymer method. However I recently met Chris Pulos, a long time practitioner of photogravure. Chris has practiced both traditional and photopolymer methods.   He sent me an example of photopolymer and I must admit it was quite beautiful. His comments…

"I have been working in photogravure since the early 1970’s when I viewed the first unveiling of the Edward Curtis’ Prints in Boston, Mass. I had the privilege of reprinting the Edward Curtis plates in Santa Fe, NM in 2005. Holding the original early 20th Century copper plates was daunting. The plates had an ageless connection to not only a race of people and an American visionary but to a process that was considered the finest form of printing a photographic image. The early masters all had their images immortalized in this process. The experience led me to set up my own atelier printing limited edition portfolios.

In 2006 I was introduced to Photopolymer Gravure, the 21st Century evolvement of Photogravure. The process utilized contemporary chemistry and physics without the deleterious affects of acids and caustic chemistry; thus environmentally safe. Imagery and positive preparation are done digitally, ground asphaltum is replaced with stochastic screens and acid bath bite becomes a water wash out. Printing with an etching press and intaglio inks is the same as copper. The final print maintains the lushness and depth of tone of copper gravure while creating crisper detail and cleaner imagery. The evolution of photogravure in the contemporary polymer process facilitates the process for the artist wishing to create timeless imagery."

Jon Goodman believes that the digitalization of photography could be the demise of photogravure if an adequate and affordable digital alternative to preparing film positives from digital files is not incorporated.

With regard to the aquatint, traditionally a screen is created by ‘dusting’ the plate with rosin.  New ‘prefab’ screens incorporating stochastic technology however are available today further streamlining the process.  At Lothar Osterberg’s studio in Brooklyn recently, I was able to compare a traditional dust-grain print with a stochastic screen print.  Under a loupe, the traditional method is superior.  Without magnification, however, the differences were much more subtle.

It’s hopeful to believe that these advancements will ensure a healthy future for the photogravure process rather than chip away at the organic qualities that bring it to life.

Please feel free to comment on this topic…..