The Art of the Photogravure
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April 28th, 2013

Philadelphia Museum of Art Highlights Photogravure


he Terminal, 1893 (negative); c. 1913 (print) Alfred Stieglitz, American Photogravure Image: 10 x 13 3/16 inches (25.4 x 33.5 cm) Sheet: 10 7/8 x 14 1/16 inches (27.6 x 35.7 cm) Mount: 16 13/16 x 22 11/16 inches (42.7 x 57.6 cm) The Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1949 1949-18-48

Exhibit includes Stieglitz large-format photogravures including The Terminal (10 x 13 in)

Photogravure: Master Prints from the Collection
May 11, 2013 – August 11, 2013

Curated by Peter Barberie, The Brodsky Curator of Photographs, Alfred Stieglitz Center.

This exhibition includes fifty-five works, most of them master prints from the 1880s through the 1910s by Pictorialist photographers such as Edward S. Curtis, Peter Henry Emerson, Gertrude Käsebier, Edward Steichen, and Alfred Stieglitz. There are also extraordinary examples from the 1930s by Man Ray, Paul Strand, and Doris Ullman, and contemporary works by Ian van Coller, Jon Goodman, Eikoh Hosoe, and Lorna Simpson.

Honickman Gallery, ground floor


December 23rd, 2010

When Subjectivism Ruled

From the  December 23 review “When Subjectivism Ruled” in the Wall Street Journal written by Richard B. Woodward.

The Pictorialists were a loose confederation that encouraged artists to be subjective with their cameras. Impressionist suggestion was preferred over clinical frankness, allegory to journalism. Prints visibly altered by the hand of the photographer were judged to be the most beautiful prints.

Stieglitz’s gradual disgust with this creed and his conversion to the idea that “objectivity is of the very essence of photography”—announced in a 1917 article—slammed shut the pre-World War I chapter of his past. Thereafter, the superiority of sharply focused images and “straight” printing became fundamental for his league of followers and for modernists everywhere.

“TruthBeauty” illustrates what must have been obvious, most of all to Stieglitz: Modernist photographers owed a lot to their despised predecessors, and the line between them was fuzzier than the triumphant upstarts later wanted to admit.

Read the Review

Alvin Langdon Coburn, The Tunnel Builders, New York 1913

Alvin Langdon Coburn, The Tunnel Builders, New York 1913

May 1st, 2010

Emerson at the Musée d’Orsay

Poplars and Pollards on the Lea, Near Broxbourne, 1888

Musée d’Orsay, Paris

March 16 – June 20, 2010

From the museum’s website…..

In 1895, only ten years after abandoning medicine to take up photography, Peter Henry Emerson published Marsh Leaves, his last illustrated book. Today it is difficult to imagine the feelings these landscapes inspired in readers of the time – images as uncontrived and evanescent as those in his first collection, Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads published in 1886, were a concentrated representation of rural life.

There was a clear development between the two books from the pictorial model of Jean-François Millet to a style influenced by James Abbott McNeill Whistler and Japanese art, from a documentary approach to pure poetry. Although we in the 21st century can immediately appreciate the formal radicalism that Emerson finally achieved, it is more difficult for us to imagine the fierce aesthetic debates that his first masterstroke aroused at the time.
His writings, as well as formulating Naturalistic photography, are a reminder that below the calm waters of this timeless vision of rural England lurked one of the most virulent polemicists in the history of photography.

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

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 21st, 2009

Color Photogravure at Crown Point Press

 

requiem.jpg

 

I see the term ‘color photogravure’ here and there but never really know what it means.  Is it a photogravure printed with a vibrant conté color ink? Or is it a plate inked simultaneously with multiple colors, like Aperture’s version of Steichen’s Moonrise, Mamaroneck? Or maybe it means plates run through the press multiple times each time using a separate color ink to achieve some type of Warhol screen-print effect?

Well Crown Point Press has teamed up with Susan Middleton (celebrated photographer of endangered species) to set the record straight.  Together they have produced a series of true full-color photogravures.

The technique incorporated produces four-color positive separations from a color negative and etches each onto four individual copper plates. The plates are then inked with the appropriate color and printed in perfect registration resulting in a full-range color photogravure.

And while I have not seen one in person, I can’t help to believe that they would be anything less than beautiful.  I hope to see one soon. If you are anywhere near the Crown Point Gallery in San Francisco, then it would be worth a visit to see for yourself.

The Crown Point Press gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. A brochure is available.

A PHOTOGRAPH PRINTED AS AN ETCHING
Learning the Language of the Realm
Featuring photogravures by Susan Middleton
February 27-April 7, 2009

Video of Susan Middleton talking about the project

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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 31st, 2009

TruthBeauty – Pictorialism and the Photograph as Art

To consider the history of photogravure is to also consider the evolution of fine art photography.  Nowhere is this relationship more evident than the Pictorial period. The photographers that today standout as instrumental forces in this movement are also the names that rise to the surface when examining the history of the photogravure.  And while TruthBeauty may not specifically address the close relationship between Pictorialism and photogravure, it certainly offers a platform from which to explore.  This writer is particularly satisfied to see an Alvin Langdon Coburn photogravure, Wapping, used for the show’s announcement as well as and the cover of the accompanying critically acclaimed book.   

 

Coburn_18_10-1.jpg

 

Rochester, N.Y.  — George Eastman House International Museum of Photography & Film focuses on the masterworks of Pictorialism with the exhibition TruthBeauty: Pictorialism and the Photograph as Art, 1845-1945, on view Feb. 7 through May 31, 2009. Featured will be more than 100 hauntingly beautiful photographs that illustrate Pictorialism’s desire to elevate photography — seen at one time as merely a mechanical tool of documentation — to an art form equal to painting and drawing.

Pictorialist photographs are among the most spectacular photographs in the history of the medium. TruthBeauty will reveal Pictorialism’s rich aesthetic, diverse approaches and technical innovations. Pictorialism was simultaneously a movement, a philosophy, an aesthetic, and a style. While its undisputed role in shaping our idea of the photograph cannot be overlooked, critical opinions on the movement’s artistic importance and historical significance have been deeply divided for at least the last 50 years.

Through photography clubs, exhibitions, and journals, Pictorialism spread from Britain to Europe, Asia, Australia, and North America. Adopting a soft-focus approach and utilizing dramatic lighting, unusual camera angles, and bold technical experimentation, the Pictorialists created highly atmospheric compositions that opened up a new world of visual expression in photography. Like Impressionism, which upset the traditions of painting and to which it is often compared, Pictorialism continues to be highly influential more 100 years after it began.

This exhibition traces Pictorialism from its early influences to its lasting impact on photography and art. TruthBeauty examines the generation of photographers who continued to strive to meet Pictorialist ideals long after the movement had concluded, particularly the transition from Pictorialism to Modernism — with the exhibition featuring some surprising early work by Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, on whom the influence of Pictorialism is not generally recognized.

TruthBeauty was curated by Dr. Alison Nordström, George Eastman House curator of photographs, who also edited a critically acclaimed book by the same title as the exhibition (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada: Douglas & McIntyre, 2008, $60).

“It was the Pictorialists’ core assertion that photography could be a vehicle for personal expression — rather than merely a factual description of the world around us — that is now widely accepted despite the changes in style and philosophy that have characterized the medium through its subsequent phases,” wrote Nordström, along with Eastman House archivist David Soures Wooters, in the book’s essay “Crafting the Art of the Photograph.” 

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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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June 9th, 2008

Is Beauty Old-Fashioned?

Is Beauty Old-Fashioned?

When EXIT – Image and Culture asked for permission to reproduce an image from this site in their upcoming issue Pictorialism, I happily obliged. Only when I received a complimentary issue did I understand the significance of this publication.  In addition to being beautifully designed and printed, the entire issue (175 pages) is devoted to Pictorialism and its ‘reheating’.  In her introduction, editor Rosa Olivares points out that while the Pictorialism of the late 1800’s was the avant-garde of the time “shaking the very foundations of the visual arts establishment,” today many consider it anachronistic or old-fashioned. But recently “Ever more young artists are inclined to take up this type of photography, in spite of fashions … And it is not just a matter of the reconceptualisation of the tableau vivant … but also the recovery of a certain type of beauty still alive among us.”

The journal includes a dozen articles by photographers, historians and critics as well as beautiful examples of both traditional and contemporary pictorial photographs like those of Desiree Dolron, Jeff Bark and Anoek Steketee.

Read “Is Beauty Old-Fashioned?” by Rosa Olivares

12-Desiree-Dolron-Xteriors-IX.jpg
Desiree Dolron, Xteriors IX (2001-2008)  

 

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May 10th, 2008

MIA Naturalistic Photography Exhibit

“Not long ago I had your portfolio of gravures in my hand and also your book Naturalistic Photography. Both took me back many years–and both seem still alive.”
– Alfred Stieglitz 1933
 

Peter Henry Emerson and
American Naturalistic Photography
May 3—September 7, 2008

Minneapolis, April 22, 2008—America’s first movement of creative photography and its revolutionary founder, Peter Henry Emerson, are the subjects of a new exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA.) Nearly one hundred naturalistic photographs by Emerson and twenty other photographers will be on view May 3 through September 7, 2008. Drawn largely from the MIA’s permanent collection, these sensitively portrayed images span the movement’s history from the 1890s to the 1930s. Other images on display include those by Edward Curtis, Alfred Stieglitz, Henry Troth, and Rudolf Eickemeyer, Jr.

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April 27th, 2008

Etchings of Light: Talbot and Photogravure

foxtalbot1.jpgHe has made Apollo his own engraver.

– Brighton Gazette, 1858

A ‘photogenic drawing’ erroneously attributed to Henry Fox Talbot was recently pulled from a high-profile Sotheby’s auction because the “worlds leading Talbot expert” pronounced that the image may not be Fox Talbot’s and in fact might predate any photograph known to exist. (“An Image is a Mystery for Photo Detectives”, New York Times 4/17/08 p. B1.)

The expert quoted in the article is Dr. Larry Schaaf, an independent photographic historian based in Baltimore, Maryland. Schaaf is the founder and Director of The Correspondence of William Henry Fox Talbot archives http://foxtalbot.dmu.ac.uk and was elected the 2005 Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford University. Schaaf’s books include Out of the Shadows: Herschel, Talbot & the Invention of Photography (Yale University Press);  The Photographic Art of William Henry Fox Talbot (Princeton University Press); and In Focus: William Henry Fox Talbot Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum.

According to Dr. Schaaf,   “It often surprises people that the inventor of photography on paper, William Henry Fox Talbot, was also the father of photogravure…  Equally striking is the fact that Talbot actively worked on photogravure for the last twenty-five years of his life, a span of time more than double that which he devoted to photography itself.”

Photogravure.com is privileged to be able to include in its text section the essay by Dr. Schaaf, “Etchings of Light” written as the introduction to the exhibition catalog, Sun Pictures; Talbot and Photogravure that accompanied an exhibition of the same title at the gallery, Hans Kraus, Jr., in October of 2003.  Included in this catalog is a selection of outstanding Fox Talbot photogravures and it alone is an invaluable resource for anyone serious about studying the history of photogravure.

Many thanks to Dr. Schaaf and Hans Kraus, Jr. for allowing the inclusion of this important essay on this site and for their continued support.

December 4th, 2007

Papa by Debbie Fleming Caffery

Caffery_03.jpgLouisiana native Debbie Fleming Caffery makes photographs that are anchored at the intersection of earth and spirit. An early series documents the sugarcane harvest that was part of the fabric of her childhood. The haunting images of the cane workers in the fields, often made in the shadowy light of dawn, portray a vanishing culture familiar to those who have lived with it, but a world apart to most. Composed in lush black tones, the photographs suggest an atavistic relationship to earth and fire, light and darkness. In 1984, Caffery began Polly, a poignant and moving collective portrait of the late Polly Joseph, a solitary and proud African-American woman living in the sugarcane country of Louisiana. Shot in the dim light of Polly’s cabin, these masterfully printed photographs not only capture the extraordinary expressiveness of Caffery’s subject, but the expressive characteristics of the medium itself. It is clear in these portraits – collected in a book published by Twin Palms Publishers in 2004 – that Caffery seeks nothing less than the spirit. Whether working in the cane fields or among rural cultures of Mexico, her photographs collect visual mysteries that always hint at that undefined territory between this world and the next. Her newest project, Deseos Sobre Todo (Desire Overall), has won her the 2005 Guggenheim fellowship and focuses on prostitutes and their customers at a rural Mexican brothel. Since moving to Santa Fe, New Mexico, Caffery has worked on photographic projects for several area agencies, including Futures for Children, an Albuquerque-based Native American mentoring program aimed at keeping children in school.

 -from the University of Kentucky Art Museum – May Lecture Series , Feb.2006

Paul Taylor, Howard Greenberg and Debbie Fleming Caffery worked tirelessly to produce this exquisite photogravure.  For information contact Howard Greenberg Gallery.