The Art of the Photogravure
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March 1st, 2011

What’s Wrong With This Picture?



Eugene



It is a stunning and surprisingly modern original-negative, hand-pulled, dust grained Talbot Kilc photogravure by Frank Eugene, which appeared in Stieglitz’s Camera Work 30 in 1910 – one hundred years ago.  The artist and the image are both icons in the history of photography. The image is held in the collections of the most prestigious photography museums in the world and there are fewer than 200 copies in private collections.  So how was it possible that I purchased this rare vintage print, beautifully framed, for only $250? It was not damaged, faded or in any way compromised.



 

The Ebay seller told me she spent over $250 to frame it.

The Ebay seller told me she spent over $250 to frame it.


The photographer, Frank Eugene (1865-1936) is regarded as one of the most significant figures of the Pictorialist movement at the turn of the century and is mentioned in almost every anthology written on the history of photography.   His revolutionary work incorporated a synthesis of painting, etching and photography and was often the subject of heated debates over weather or not a photograph should/could be ‘manipulated’ in order to achieve an artistic effect.


MK_CPOYWRK_02_11 19317

 

Borrowing from his experience as a painter, Eugene aggressively scratched on his negatives to remove or reduce unwanted details and to enhance the expressive characteristics of an image.


“What made Eugene so attractive not only to his contemporaries but also to Stieglitz was his totally unorthodox method

of rubbing oil onto the negatives and adding cross hatching with an etching needle sometimes leaving only small portions

of a picture recognizably photographic.” Naef  p.96


Critic Charles Caffin, who authored the landmark book Photography as a Fine Art (1901), also validated Eugene’s technique …

“only a trained and gifted photographer was in the position to create such delicate images and alter their power of

expression so masterfully by manipulating them… The print, printed as it is on Japan paper, conveys every impression

of an etching, having the beautiful characteristics that one looks for therein: spontaneousness of execution, vigorous and

pregnant suggestiveness, velvety color, and delightful evidence of the personal touch. The art is still in the womb of time,

its possibilities becoming wider and more appreciated; being new, one learns that the old standards and points of view

do not necessarily apply to it, and more and more realize the need for an open mind”



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The publishers of Impressionist Camera: Pictorial Photography in Europe, 1888-1918 felt it deserving of one of the few two-page spreads in its 350 page publication.


Eugene’s unorthodox methods were controversial to say the least, and struck a nerve in the American ‘photography as art’ movement of the day amplifying the ongoing debate over weather manipulating a photograph to make it art is acceptable and justifiable.


In Eugene’s own words…

“It has often been said that the [Horse] photograph was reminiscent of an etching.  But that was in no way intended.

The banal surroundings which were inessential and disruptive to the photograph as a whole were removed from the

negative with a retouching knife, but nothing else was changed, neither the light nor the shadows, nor the form and line

of the animal’s body.”

Eugene’s aim was to suppress the inessential in favor of the essential.


Very little of Eugene’s work survives today – a typical fate of much that has to do with the history of photography and an indication of how little is known about the medium and how low esteem that part of our cultural heritage is held.



Charles Caffin obviously felt the image worthy of consideration when he used it to introduce a chapter of his landmark, "Photography as Fine Art" in 1901


If interested in this image, I will be donating it to the 2011 George Eastman House Benefit Auction and hopefully there it will command a price more in line with its pedigree.

Reference:

Caffin, Charles H. Photography as a Fine Art: The Achievements and Possibilities of Photographic Art in America.  New York: Doubleday, Page & Co. 1901

Naef, Weston. The Collection of Alfred Stieglitz – Fifty Pioneers of Modern Photography. New York: The Viking Press, 1978

Pohlmann, Ulrich.  Frank Eugene: The Dream of Beauty. Munich: Nazraeli Press 1995

Prodger, Phillip. The Impressionist Camera: Pictorial Photography in Europe, 1888 – 1918.  Merrell and the Saint Louis Art Museum, 2006






August 29th, 2010

Notes On Photographs: The Photograph Connoisseurship Resource

Annie Brigman, "The Bubble" variant poses

Annie Brigman, "The Bubble" variant poses

The Gorge Eastman House has recently launched Notes On Photographs which aims to compile and illustrate relevant information that characterizes a photographer’s work. It intends to be used as a reference database for illustrating key attributes documented by conservators, curators, collectors and scholars dedicated to the study and observation of photographs. The capabilities of the wiki system allow for the resource to be a stage of discussion on meaningful information in better understanding fine photographs. There is currently a demonstrated need for a greater sophistication in the study of photographs. This is due essentially to three aspects: the rise in market value of these objects, the lack of reference resources for works of masters, and the closure of chemical imaging that is leading to a need for re-reading the history of photography. Curators and collectors have been calling upon conservators to answer questions relating to issues of authenticity and understanding of photographs–authorship, photographic processing, dating and provenance. Conservators, who have the tools and knowledge to analyze photographic materials, have in recent years directed the research focus towards characterization protocols. In order to compile and surpass platforms of knowledge it is important to create reference resources. Newly developed imaging and information tools allow for the creation of such a resource using the wiki system that will be added to and serve conservators, curators, registrars, catalogers, and all those involved in the study, observation and valuation of photographs.  Visit the site.

April 11th, 2010

Lothar Osterburg recognized by The American Academy of Arts and Letters

Two color photogravure, 11” x 11”. Courtesy of Moeller Fine Art, NY.

Two color photogravure, 11” x 11”. Courtesy of Moeller Fine Art, NY.


THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF ARTS AND LETTERS ANNOUNCES 2010 ART AWARD WINNERS
New York, March 25, 2010 — The American Academy of Arts and Letters announced today the eight artists who
will receive its 2010 awards in art. The awards will be presented in New York City in May at the Academy’s
annual Ceremonial. The art prizes, totaling $62,500, honor both established and emerging artists. The award
winners were chosen from a group of 37 artists who had been invited to participate in the Invitational Exhibition of
Visual Arts, which opened on March 11, 2010. The Invitational Exhibition continues through April 11, 2010, and
features over 120 paintings, sculptures, photographs and works on paper. The members of this year’s award
selection committee were: William Bailey, Chuck Close, Eric Fischl, Jane Freilicher, Judy Pfaff, Martin Puryear,
Robert Ryman, and Ursula von Rydingsvard.

Five Academy Awards in Art of $7500 each are given  to honor exceptional accomplishment and to encourage creative work.  This year’s winners include:
GABRIELLE BAKKER
LOTHAR OSTERBURG
JULIANNE SWARTZ
TOM UTTECH
STANLEY WHITNEY

March 9th, 2010

Brassai’s Paris de Nuit: Photogravure or not?

Brassai, Open Gutter From "Paris by Night" 1933

Brassai, Open Gutter from "Paris by Night" 1933


Brassai’s Paris de Nuit is highlighted in Andrew Roth’s 101 Best Photography Books, “The photogravures are so rich that the sooty blacks still look like they’ll rub off the page… Brassai became a master of drawing luminosity from the darkness.”

Was Roth correct in referring to the images in this book as photogravures?  Just what does the term ‘photogravure’ really mean? Truth of the matter is that while the images in Paris de Nuit are by strict definition photogravures, they are ‘sheet-fed’ photogravures which cannot really be compared in quality or craftsmanship to ‘hand-pulled’ photogravures.

Sheet fed photogravures were printed by relatively high volume presses and are typically found on relatively low-quality paper. Production efficiency and automation trumping aesthetics, the ink was thinned with solvents in order to be able to be applied mechanically.  The ink was also applied thinly to aid in quick drying.  Further compromising quality, a grid like screen was used to generate the gradation of tone rather the more organic and time-consuming aquatint dust used in the hand-pulled photogravure process.  So while sheet fed photogravures did reproduce images in ink with an intaglio plate, that’s where the comparison ends.

The photogravures highlighted on this site are all handmade.  They are old school. The tone defining grain is organic rather than a screen. The ink is thick and rubbed deep into the plate by hand.  The plate is run through the press slowly, one sheet at a time, to insure the complete transfer of the pockets of ink deep into the oftentimes hand handmade tissue or paper.

It is no wonder photogravure is so misunderstood (translate: undervalued.) If the same word is used throughout the photography collecting community to describe both something that is machine made AND something that is hand-made, who wouldn’t be confused?


January 12th, 2010

Photographic Art Treasures

Roger Fenton, Water Gate, Raglan Castle, 1856

Roger Fenton, Water Gate, Raglan Castle, 1856

Google alerts are great if you are searching for information on obscure subjects.  That is exactly how I discovered Paul Morgan.  Paul was offering a talk at the National Media Museum entitled ‘Paul Pretsch and Photogalvanography 1850 – 1870’.  Surprised not only to find someone interested in the subject but also to see one of photography’s most prestigious institutions offering a talk on photogralvonagraphy, I emailed Paul to introduce myself and see if he would let me read his lecture.


Paul and I have since had in depth correspondence about Pretsch.  He has provided me with a plethora of images and text regarding Pretsch, photogalvanography and Fenton.  Eventually,  I asked for Paul’s bio.  Expecting to see something like Professor of Art History – Oxford, I was surprised to see that he is a layperson with a passion for creating, learning and writing — rendering his work on Pretsch all the more impressive.


From Paul’s bio….”I was educated at Rossall, then took a degree in Communication Studies at Aston in Birmingham. Have been through quite a variety of jobs, but the main spell was living and working with profoundly handicapped youngsters. Have always been involved in the arts, my own output including painting, drawing, photography, poetry, drama, and prose. Usually occupied in writing of some variety, in latter years mainly odd articles, covering subjects from local history to Captain Morgan the pirate.  My interest in Pretsch came about from finding some photogalvanographic prints, but very little information about them.  I ended up spending a decade intermittently pursuing the full story. Now have turned my attention to an investigation of the Battle of Loos in 1915, where my maternal Grandfather died.”


Paul has generously agreed to let me publish his work on Pretsch in the text section of the site.  It is as comprehensive essay on Photogalvanography you’ll find, celebrating the forgotten innovation that lead to the first published photographic art portfolio in ink – Photographic Art Treasures.

Thank you Paul.

October 31st, 2009

Camera Work Shines at Swann

Theodor and Oscar Hofmeister, The Solitary Horseman, 1904

Theodor and Oscar Hofmeister, The Solitary Horseman, 1904

Swann Galleries Photographs and Photographic Literature

Sale 2191, October 22, 2009

Camera Work made a strong showing at Swann last month. While many lots in the sale passed or sold within or below their estimates, seven of the ten Camera Work lots commanded prices that exceeded their high estimates (including buyer’s premium.)

Numbers 2 & 19 $5,280
Numbers 7 & 8 $3,360
Numbers 13 & 15 $6,960
Numbers 16, 17 & 18 $4,560
Number 22 $3,360
Numbers 25 & 31 $6,480
Number 27 $4,560

To learn more about Camera Work pricing, visit Photogravure Gallery.

October 31st, 2009

Photogravure Lecture at the Saint Louis Art Museum

Klick

This summer Eric Lutz, Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs for the St. Louis Art Museum, asked me to give a talk to the museum’s Friends of Photography collectors group. It was my first opportunity to present my research to a captive audience. I was concerned that it might be hard to fill the 90 minutes with relevant information, so I edited together a Keynote presentation complete with video clips, sound bites and fancy graphics.

The problem was, I never timed it. Well best laid plans…turns out the talk I prepared would have taken 90 hours! I shifted from plan A to just winging it and the 90 minutes went by in a flash and resulted in just a brief overview. The good news is everybody not only stayed awake, but also left excited about photogravure. Eric later said it was some of the best group energy he had seen at a Friends talk.

The experience was an affirmation that the topic is broad, relevant, rich in detail and able to be appreciated by a wide audience.

Thanks to David Spencer forh is help and for supplying this image of Karl Klic’s first published photogravure.

April 26th, 2009

Pictorialism: Hidden Modernism

Kuehn.jpgIn its first show of 2009, Kicken Berlin presented an overview of art photography from 1896 to 1916.  The following text is an excerpt from the show’s press release written by Carolin Förster, Berlin based photo historian.

The turn of the century saw the establishment of an ‘international style’ in photography, laying claim to the medium’s recognition as a fine art. An additional goal of the Pictorialist movement was modernity; in contrast to the medium’s commercial and private uses, art photographers aspired to transform reality. By adapting the subjects of Symbolism, art nouveau’s awareness of form, and the craftsmanship of the Arts and Crafts Movement, they participated in the artistic avant-garde of fin de siècle Modernism and conveyed a very clear message: Photography is art.

Rather than being obvious or shocking, this modernity was hidden within individual aesthetic expression and in the art object’s sumptuous materiality. Numerous photography clubs, magazines, and museum exhibitions provided art photographers with a forum for critical recognition. The movement’s important centers included Vienna, Hamburg, and London, and it found its most important champion in the American Alfred Stieglitz, who published the magazine Camera Work.

Study, Heinrich Kuehn, photogravure 1911

 

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March 2nd, 2009

Research Opportunity: George Eastman House

imaginingParadise.jpg

About three weeks ago I received in the mail Imagining Paradise, the new book highlighting the world-class collection of photographically illustrated books in George Eastman House’s Menschel Library.  I immediately read the book cover to cover.  It represents a concise, well-designed and beautifully printed book offering an overview of many of the publications that are represented on this site.
 
Then I recalled, when learning the wet-plate collodion process several years ago, I was allowed access to the GEH collection to view examples of vintage ambrotypes.  I realized I could take a field trip to Rochester to see, in person, the books highlighted in Imagining Paradise.
 
So I assembled a list of titles that interested me (using their powerful Voyager catalog.)  The list was ambitious to say the least, but it did not intimidate my gracious host, Rachel Stuhlman, the curator of rare books. She said she would see what she could do and agreed to meet me early the day I arrived so I could get a jump on the project.  I was joined by friend and fellow photogravure enthusiast, David Spencer.  His list doubled the number of titles I wanted to see.
 
When we arrived she was ready and waiting in the study room with carts of books. We wondered – could it really be this easy?  We were beginning to understand what a powerful resource the George Eastman House is.  Rachel was not just an accommodating hostess, but she was also a wealth of information when it comes to the photographically illustrated book.  Having nurtured the library since 1982, she could answer questions about obscure variations in editions of ancient titles and could immediately put her hands on anything.
 
Believe it or not, our time was not spent only looking at books.  We also had the good fortune to meet with and learn from the superb and talented staff of the GEH.
 
Mark Osterman, the process historian for the Advanced Residency Program for Photographic Conservation, gave us a crash course on a plethora of early photographic techniques including the use of a Camera Lucida and a Physionotrace.
 
Valentina Branchini, a research fellow in the Advanced Residency Program, provided fascinating insight into the work of Alvin Landon Coburn, teaching me more in a couple of hours than I have garnered from any book I have read on the subject.  Together we examined Coburn photogravures, prints and negatives, comparing the subtle variations that may have motivated the directio
n of his work.
 
Sheila Foster, an independent researcher and co-editor of Imagining Paradise, (and a big fan of Camera Work photogravures) shared with us plans for an exciting new web resource on which the GEH is working and plans to unveil at the upcoming APAID.
 
Joe Struble, assistant archivist of the photo collection, pulled from the collection some rare examples of George Davison gravures as well as the large Coburn plates.  Knowing we were in a hurry, he allowed us to take over the print viewing room, spreading out work that he would happily put away after we left.
 
Even Director of the ARP program, Grant Romer, made a point of stopping by to introduce himself and welcome us.
 
In short, we were very well taken care of at the GEH, so well in fact that we left with way more than what we originally expected to see, and plan on returning for we only scratched the surface of this great resource – a resource available free to anyone interested in almost any facet of history, processes, conservation or art of photography.
 
Thank you, GEH.
 
Please consider helping the George Eastman House continue to fulfill its responsibility as stewards of its consequential collection of photographs by visiting their website where you can find information about becoming a member or making a donation

January 7th, 2009

Is Value Determined by Worth?

CameraWork_28_02.jpgRecently 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.

November 29th, 2008

Charles Nègre: A Portfolio of 13 Photogravures

Negre_Jammes_01.jpgWhen is a restrike not a restrike?  

Andrè Jammes is recognized as one of this century’s greatest photography collectors. An expert in early French photography, the photographically illustrated book and the history of photomechanical reproduction, Jammes was an early advocate of the importance and beauty of photogravure. This portfolio, printed in 1982, is a testament to Jammes’ belief that the photogravure process holds a relevant place in the history of the medium.

“Charles Nègre (1820-1880) was one of the most influential photographers of the XIXth century.  His approach to architecture and his special taste for genre photography made him famous.  He played a leading part in the field of photomechanical process in which he made important discoveries.  As early as 1855 he brought the hand-pulled photogravure process to an extraordinary degree of perfection.  His work, thus translated into permanent photographic etchings, is classical in the history of photography. So much so that at the Universal Exhibition of 1855, some critics considered that he had reached such perfection that “the important question of engraving through the action of light was finally resolved.”

The present portfolio demonstrated his successive trials, from the modest “Maçon accroupi” published in La Lumière in 1854, to the large-scale plates of Chartes cathedral, which are his masterpieces.

The fragile silver salts of normal photography are transcribed in the photogravure process with printing ink.  This process adds to an appreciated esthetic improvement the guarantee of absolute permanence.  These values have always been recognized as famous photographers such as Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, and Paul Strand adopted photogravure with enthusiasm in Camera Notes and Camera Work.  It ceased being used after the Second World War because of its cost.  It is only recently that a few workshops have revived this old and marvelous process.

 

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August 1st, 2008

Edward Steichen: The Early Years 1900-1920

flatiron.JPG

 

 “Edward Steichen is an immortal among   photographers. During the seven decades of his career, he advanced photography as an art form as well as a vital medium of visual communication.  His richest, most profound photographs were made between 1900 and 1927.  It is from this period that in 1969 he selected 12 masterpieces and, for his final photographic project, asked Aperture’s Michael Hoffman to attempt at that time what appeared to be impossible: publication of his prints as hand-pulled photogravures.”

 Like his close colleague Alfred Stieglitz, Steichen understood the potential of photogravure and considered photogravure prints to be original works of art, in many cases the most faithful realization of the photographer’s intention.  It is no wonder then that he chose photogravure for his last great work.

 In the 70’s, Jon Goodman, already working to revive the photogravure process, teamed up with Richard Benson and Hoffman in an attempt to execute the exacting plates.  The painstaking task of printing the plates was accomplished, under Jon’s supervision, at the atelier de Taille Douce, Saint-Prex, Switzerland. Twelve years later, the portfolio was finished. Of the twelve plates, three were made from Steichen’s original negatives – Torso, Isadora Duncan and Three Pears.

 It baffles this writer why these portfolios have been sitting in Aperture’s inventory all this time. Is it possible that people just don’t realize that they are still available?… Well, they may not be for long.  Only three complete portfolios remain.  My sentiments…. It’s about time.  It’s about time that this great portfolio is sold out, finally acknowledging that it is indeed an amazing and important achievement and a milestone in the history of photogravure.

View Portfolio 

Link to Aperture’s catalog


April 19th, 2008

Auction Results…

Camera Work_49-50_03.jpg 
Photogravure made a strong showing in this years spring auction season.  Here are some of the highlights:
Lot 2 Thomas Annan, The Old Closes and Streets of Glasgow $10,000 USD
Lot 3 Alvin Langdon Coburn, London $13,750 USD
Lot 4 Alvin Langdon Coburn, Men of Mark $5,000
Lot 5 Alvin Langdon Coburn, London (Chesterton, 1914) $3,750 USD
Lot 7 Paul Strand, Camera Work 49/50 (presentation copy) $34,600 USD
Lot 38 Doris Ullman, Roll Jordan Roll $39,400 USD
Sotheby’s Sale No. N08424
Lot 154 Alfred Stieglitz, Spring Showers (large format) $49,000 USD
Lot 156 Alfred Stieglitz, The Steerage  (large format, signed) $91,000 USD
Sotheby’s Sale No. N08425
Lot 10 306 Alfred Stieglitz, The Steerage (large format) $32,200 USD
Christies Sale No. 1968 (off season)
Lot 306 Alfred Stieglitz, The Steerage (small format) $10,000 USD

April 3rd, 2008

A Short History of Photography Collecting

With APAID and the spring auctions fast approaching, it seems an appropriate time to post Penelope Dixon’s article, ‘A Short History of Photograph Collecting.’ Dixon is perhaps the most qualified appraiser of fine art photography practicing today. In this essay she lays out for beginning and experienced collectors a concise and thoughtful overview of the history and practice of collecting photographs.  

Download Text

To learn more about Penelope Dixon and Associates you can visit their visit their web site

December 22nd, 2007

Top lot at Swann December auction is photogravure

EXCELLENT RESULTS FOR PHOTGRAVURE AT SWANN GALLERIES’ AUCTION OF PHOTOGRAPHIC LITERATURE & PHOTOGRAPHS ON DECEMBER 13

“This was an exciting auction in which the synergy between Photographic Literature and classical photography was reconfirmed…” Daile Kaplan Photogravure highlights included several editions of Camera Work, among them Number 36, with 16 photogravures by Alfred Stieglitz, New York, 1911, which brought $28,800. Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Theaters, special edition, issued with a signed photogravure, New York, 2000 brought $4,800. And Roy De Carava’s Roy De Carava, with 12 dust-grain photogravures printed by Paul Taylor in 1991, was the auction’s top lot at $81,000.
DeCarava_L.jpgRoy DeCarava’s (American, b. 1919) photographs have documented African American life in New York from a deeply personal and yet socially conscious perspective. DeCarava explained his feelings when taking the 1964 photograph of five men coming out of the church service: "The motivation at that moment was my political understanding of the treatment of black people and their response to injustice…I wasn’t at the bombing, I wasn’t in the church, but I knew what it was and I wanted to make a picture that dealt with it. The [five] men were coming out of the church with faces so serious and so intense, and the image was made."