Recently I noticed that an issue of Camera Work XXVIII (28) was on the auction block. The minimum price was $875. The lot, in very good condition, did not sell. This is not surprising considering the current economic climate. When I consider what was offered, however, I am surprised – if not downright disappointed. I wonder, is this material not worth this price? Or – does the market just not understand what it is?
Camera Work 28 contains 10 hand-pulled photogravures. Alvin Langdon Coburn himself pulled one of these plates, On the Embankment. Coburn was one of the few photographers that worked directly in photogravure, making his photogravures, in my opinion, original vintage prints.
In addition to the Coburn, James Craig Annan supplied seven of the plates. Annan, possibly the finest photographer ever to work in photogravure, is credited with reviving interest in the work of Hill and Adamson. Annan’s connection to D.O. Hill is substantial. When Annan was a child, his father Thomas was a friend of Hill’s. The Annan’s even lived in Hill’s home for a short period. Thomas Annan, a skilled photographer himself, made his living photographically reproducing paintings and worked closely with Hill in the reproduction of his monumental and important painting, The First General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland. In fact it was this work that initially inspired Hill to explore portrait photography as art. And Hill’s portraits inspired James Craig Annan’s pursuit of photography (Janet Burnet, 1893.)
In this issue of Camera Work six of the photogravures made by Annan are from Hill and Adamson’s original collotype negatives. These prints can and should be considered the best representations available of Hill and Adamson’s work. A talented craftsman intimately related to the original prints made them. In fact, in some way, these images are more accurate a representation than the original calotype. Over time Hill and Adamson’s calotypes have faded – subject to the same fate as the prints in Fox Talbot’s, Pencil of Nature (which consequently motivated Talbot to invent the photogravure process.)
Yes I could go on and on about the reasons these images are so important, and in my opinion, of such great value. The question remains, however, what are they worth? This collector thinks they are worth preserving, that’s for sure.