The Art of the Photogravure
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December 4th, 2007

Stieglitz Letter

“Every number of Camera Work was published complete when issued. The way it happens that plates are missing is that frequently Camera Work came out of the bindery with plates to be inserted by me personally after binding. Some years ago many of the insets were either destroyed or mislaid. Hence the impossibility of completing many issues at present I know of no way of acquiring missing plates except in keeping one’s eyes open for numbers of Camera Work as they may appear in the market.  Absolutely complete sets of Camera Work are very, very rare & are priceless. No I have no reproductions either, there are none. The Plates in Camera Work for the major part are photogravures made directly from original negatives & were made under my direction as were the prints. -So from a certain point of view many of the Plates might be looked upon as a species of originals".

From a letter written by Stieglitz to Grace E. Titus, December 18,1933 (ebay item 290030212499)

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October 21st, 2007

Julia Margaret Cameron – ‘Sadness’

CameraWork_41_05.jpgIn 1864 Julia Margaret Cameron, at the age of 48, took up photography.  Her motivation was, “to arrest all beauty that came before me.”  One of her first successes was an image created for her close friend, the painter George Fredrick Watts.  The photograph, which she titled, “Sadness,” was a study of the Shakespearean actress, Ellen Terry.

Terry came from a theatrical family and had her stage debut at age nine.  In 1862 she was introduced to Watts when she posed for one of his paintings. Conceding to the pressure of others, Terry and Watts were married in February 1864, when she was just sixteen.  Within a year, the couple had separated, and they were formally divorced in 1877.

It is likely that this portrait was made on their honeymoon. And while Terry may have been striking a pose for Cameron, the picture’s title and Terry’s expression suggests that Cameron was probing Terry’s conflicted and anxious soul. Later, in her autobiography, Terry recalls how difficult her relationship with Watts actually was.*

Why did Stieglitz choose to reproduce Cameron’s, “Sadness” as a photogravure in Camera Work (entitled Ellen Terry, at the Age of Sixteen) ? Stieglitz believed that Cameron was one of fine art photography’s earliest practitioners and “Sadness” a classic example of her intentions.

 * from In Focus: Julia Margaret Cameron. J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

September 18th, 2007

Alfred Stieglitz and the Photo-Secession

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Another perspective on the importance of Camera Work from the epilogue of Alfred Stieglitz and the Photo-Secession. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1983
 
 
 
"A lasting testament to Stieglitz and his ideas was his periodical Camera Work.  It offered a visual record of the achievements of the American and foreign photographers in whom he believed, a living history of the Photo-Secession, and a digest of the aesthetic theories and intentions of both the progressive photographers and the burgeoning avant-garde in painting, sculpture, and criticism.  As a reflection of what Stieglitz stood for, Camera Work remains a vital wellspring from which creative individuals may still draw nourishment and inspiration."
                     – William Innes Homer
 

July 1st, 2007

Paul Strand Letter

Strand_01_20.jpgThis 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.

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June 1st, 2007

Photogravures at The Met

CameraWork_36_15.jpgRecently 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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May 13th, 2007

Forgotten Beauty….

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Hamish Bowles, a European Editor at Large of Vogue was recently asked, "Who’s the greatest model of all time and why?" 
 
His  response…."MaechesaCasati, who is one of the most astonishing, extreme personages of the age.  She really understood how to project in all her portraits, weather they were by Boldini or Man Ray"
 
Adolf de Meyer’s portrait of Casati that appeared in Camera Work 40 is one of the most beautiful photogravures ever printed.  
 
From Luminous-Lint… "There are parts of the life of Adolf de Meyer that are shrouded in mystery, his origins are not entirely clear, whether he was actually a Baron even though he referred to himself as one, and his homosexuality is confused by his marriage to Olga. The one thing that is clear is his pictorialist style of photography had a considerable influence on fashion photography in Vogue with the use of soft focus lens and lighting.
 
If we examine the images from 1900 they show the style of fashion photography that was common at that period – basically very boring. It was in the decade that followed that he really developed a different style as the later photographs show. He was a member of the Linked Ring Brotherhood that was promoting pictorialism through its exhibition and this connection gave De Meyer access to people of social standing and photographers of influence. The soft focused shots with refined elegance imparted a misty desirable world of upper class society.
 
His photographs were highly regarded by Alfred Stieglitz who showed them at his 291 Gallery in New York and they were included as photogravures in the seminal publication Camera Work – particularly Issue 40 in 1912. It is perhaps no coincidence that De Meyer was hired by Vogue the following year."
 

May 12th, 2007

Vintage Original Photogravures and Stieglitz

CameraWork_24_04.jpgOne objective of this site is to bring awareness to the collecting community that certain photogravures are original, vintage printsCoburn, Emerson and Annan worked directly in photogravure and their involvement is without question.  When discussing Stiegliz and Camera Work plates however, the distinction is less clear.

Frequently I come across texts that support the position that many of the Camera Work gravures were made in close collaboration between Stieglitz and the artist.

The following excerpt is from Weston Naef’s, The Collection of Alfred Stieglitz …"De Meyer was also a an impeccable judge of when he could speak out and refuse to pass on the proofs of his Camera Work gravures, describing what he has shown as ‘too grey, lack contrast, weak and not luminous.’ shortcomings which he felt drained the life from his flower studies.  About gravures de Meyer knew Stieglitz was fastidious and would listen to criticism. p. 178

April 23rd, 2007

At Auction…

 

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Sotheby’s Sale N08387

Lot 69 Stieglitz, The Steerage (large format) 12,000 – 18,000 USD

Lot 136 Mapplethorp, A Season in Hell 10,000 – 15,000 USD

Lot 137 McDermott and McGough,The Metallic Plate: The Art of Photography 7,000 – 10,000 USD

Sotheby’s Sale N08309

Lot 35 Coburn, New York  10,000 – 15,000 USD

Lot 36 Steichen, Rodin, Le Penseur (large, signed) 8,000 – 12,000 USD

Lot 37 Strand, Camera Work 48 10,000 – 15,000 USD

Lot 38 Stieglitz, The Steerage (from Camera Work) 5,000 – 7,000 USD

Christies Sale 1825

Lot 0230 Camera Work (complete) 150,000 – 250,000 USD

Bonhams & Butterfields Sale 14799

Lot 448 Stieglitz and White, Torso (from Camera Work) 3,500 – 5,500 USD

Lot 578 White, Alvin Langdon Coburn and His Mother, 1,500 – 2,000 USD

December 10th, 2006

Photogravure proves itself at Swann

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The value of the hand pulled photogravure is emerging as witnessed in last weeks aution entitled, ‘Photographic Literature’ at Swann in New York. The three top lots of this red-hot genre contained hand-pulled photogravures.
 
Doris Ulmann’s Roll, Jordan, Roll (New York, 1933) sold for $33,600. Alvin Langdon Coburn’s, New York (London & New York, 1910) netted a record $28,800, and an issue of Camera Work, Number 36, with 16 Stieglitz photogravures was had for $20,400.
 
More encouraging is that these lots were purchased by dealers, implying that the retail value of this work is significantly higher.
 
 

September 30th, 2006

Sotheby’s to Auction Signed Steichen Supplement

On October 6, 2006 Sotheby’s will auction (Photographs Sale No. 08227 – Lot 30) a rare inscribed and signed copy of ‘The Steichen Supplement’ (30,00 – 50,000 USD).

Lot description: (New York: Alfred Stieglitz, 1906), the complete issue, illustrated with 16 photogravures and halftones after the photographs of EDWARD STEICHEN, 15 plates signed by the photographer in pencil in the plate margin or on the page mount, the photogravure entitled ‘Road into the Valley—Moonrise’ hand-toned by the photographer and signed and dated by him in yellow pencil on the mount; the issue signed, dated, and inscribed ‘With the sincere compliments of Eduard Steichen Paris 1909’ by the photoCameraWork_SS_07.jpggrapher in pencil on the front free endpaper. 4to, original printed gray wrappers, in a matching gray board portfolio, 1906
 
View Steichen Supplement 

May 1st, 2006

Christie’s holds its first rare photobook auction

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Acknowledging the rapidly growing interest in rare photobooks, Christie’s is holing its first ever photo book auction (RARE PHOTOBOOKS, Sale 7228 May 18, 2006, London, King Street). 

The sale contains many fine examples of rare books illustrated with hand-pulled photogravures including Laure Albin-Guillot’s, Micrographie Decorative (4,000 – 6,000 British pounds) and Alvin Langdon Coburn’s, A Door in the Wall and Other Stories (1,000-1,500 British pounds). A highlight of the auction is a rare, signed first edition of The Steichen Book, published in 1906 (40,000-60,000 British pounds).  The book contains 29 photogravures of Steichen’s best work including The Pond- Moonrise which recently set the world record price for a photograph when it sold for $2,928,000.

January 1st, 2006

Jon Goodman publishes Washburn Portfolio

Jon Goodman Photogravure and the Heron Press have announced the publication of PHOTOGRAPHING IN HIGH PLACES, a portfolio of ten photogravures by Bradford Washburn. Bradford Washburn, photographer, mountain climber, cartographer, explorer and museum director spent over four decades making photographs in the high places of the Alaska Range and the Yukon. Working with a large format aerial camera Washburn made astonishing images from on the ground and in the air of places that few if any had seen before his expeditions. PHOTOGRAPHING IN HIGH PLACES presents a collection of ten of these images as photogravures made from Bradford Washburn’s original negatives by Jon Goodman. The 10 x 13” plates are exquisitely printed on 17 x 20” Somerset paper accompanied by a text by Martha Sandweiss.

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