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.
Robert Adams always wanted to try photogravure. He admires its tactile qualities as well as its rich tone. This series of images is from his book, Harney County Oregon and was printed in collaboration with Paul Taylor of Rennaisance Press. The project was co-published by Mathew Marks Gallery and Fraenkel Gallery. An Art:21 interview of Robert discussing the project can be found here.
James Craig Annan is under recognized in today’s photography scene. He was not, however, overlooked by Stieglitz during the peak years of the Photo-Secession and the publication of Camera Work. Just a year before Stieglitz introduced Paul Strand in Camera Work 48, he devoted an entire issue to Annan’s photographs from Spain. This somber, quiet, introspective body of work was born out of the most ordinary subject matter. It is reticent, reserved and tenderly beautiful. The signed prints are from the collection of Raimondi Antonio who died shortly after World War I.
Mrs. N. Gray Bartlett distinguished herself as an amateur photographer at a time when relatively few women were involved in the art. An active member of the Chicago Camera Club, she displayed her work in several exhibitions, receiving recognition for idealized and sentimental imagery of women and children posed in outdoor settings… Her books, printed in high-quality tissue photogravure, combined photographs, fanciful lettering and whimsical drawings and exemplify the creative opportunity that photogravure offered to combine photography and illustration (GEH, Imagining Paradise, White, From the mundane to the magical, 65) Find here examples from A Girl I Know.
George Davison’s innovative impressionist photographs turned the heads of the Photographic Society of Great Britain in the 1890’s. Davison’s use of a pinhole lens resulted in photographs that were difficult to distinguish from paintings. And although this particular photographic technique came to represent all that was wrong with photography’s struggle to be recognized as art, it has found its place in history as a distinctive early phase of the pictorial movement. A signed photogravure from this period is rare – especially one originally in the collection of Margaret Harker and published in her book, The Linked Ring: The Secession Movement in Photography in Britain, 1892 – 1910, London: Heinemann, 1979
Die Kunst in der Photographie. These two images, one by Constance Puyo and the other by Ernest Ashton, exemplify photogravure’s capacity to offer a quality of print that is uniquely beautiful. Although historically forgotten, they will always remain highlights of this collection.
Peter Henry Emerson’s most distinguished and most impressionistic work is considered Marsh Leaves, his last published book and one of only two in which the photogravures were printed by Emerson himself. This may be the earliest body of photographic work to show Japanese influence. The misty quality he achieves in these landscapes is also strongly reminiscent of Whistler’s ‘Nocturnes’. (Life and Landscape: P.H. Emerson Art & Photography in East Anglia 1885-1900, p. 39) This collection of prints was exhibited by the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, The J. Paul Getty Museum, and Chrysler Museum of Art between 2006 and 2008.
Roger Fenton is relevant in the study of the history of photogravure from at least two perspectives. He has been credited with the birth of photojournalism when in 1855, The Illustrated London News published examples from The Exhibition of Photographic Pictures Taken in the Crimea (Farber, Great News Photos and the Stories Behind Them, pp. 12-13) And in 1856 Fenton managed the Photographic Department and photographed for the Photo-Galvanographic Company in London, which published, “Photographic Art Treasures” – the first periodical devoted to artistic photographic reproduction illustrated by photomechanical process. The published photogalvanographs were strongly criticized in the photographic press for their heavy retouching. Today not only are they charming, but also are rare examples from the evolution of photomechanical reproduction and photogravure. (Eder, 582)
J Dudley Johnston, elected to the Linked Ring in 1907, was twice president of the Royal Photographic Society where he played a key role in starting the Society’s permanent collection. Johnston became one of the earliest photographic historians and his awareness of the history of the emergence of photography doubtlessly inﬂuenced his own photographic work. Margaret Harker in her The Linked Ring: The Secession Movement in Photography in Britain, 1892 – 1910, considered Johnston a leading Secessionist… ‘The more adventurous of the Secessionists explored the visual world afresh, breaking away from what had become established forms of picture making by photography.’ Most of Johnston’s work is to be found in the collection of the Royal Photographic Society, now at the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television Bradford. It is rare to ﬁnd examples on the market. This photogravure from one of Johnston’s most famous images was purchased from the collection of Margaret Harker and happens to represent its commencement, for it is notated on the back “No.1 – the first photograph in the Harker collection.”
Unai San Martin has won accolades as one of Spain’s most accomplished printmakers (Premio Nacional de Grabado, 2002; Joan Miro Foundation, Mallorca.) Experiencing one of his photogravures in person leaves little doubt why. His work is ethereal and mysteriously beautiful. And his craftsmanship when it comes to photogravure is non-pareil.
Man Ray was one of the few American artists involved in the international movements of Dada and Surrealism during the first half of the twentieth century. Published in 1931 and commissioned by a French electric company to promote the use of electricity, Électricité is a prime example of Ray’s experimental style and consists of 10 rayograms all related to uses of electricity and printed in photogravure.
Electricite la Ville, illuminated by Fernand Jacopozzi’s fanciful lighting design, explodes with an overlay of neon advertisements in Man Ray’s dynamic, multiple-exposure print. Fragments of words float through the photograph like bits of overheard conversations.
American Pictorial Photography, published in an edition of only 150 by Alfred Stieglitz and the New York Camera Club at the turn of the century, is a key example of the role photogravure played in the crusade to have photography accepted as a fine art. The photogravures, mostly images from Camera Notes, were presented in portfolio form – beautifully printed and mounted on carefully chosen papers thereby achieving ‘parity’ with the more accepted platinum print.
Completed in 1932, ÉGYPTE is one of the finest books I have come across. Commissioned by King Fouad I of Egypt, Frederick Boissonnas traversed what was once ancient Egypt with his large format camera photographing the landscape, the people and the architecture. His photographs convey the impression that very little has changed in the structures and the lives of the people who inhabit them. We see veiled women in the streets, men at prayer, oxen in the field, and statues larger than life – all are bathed in strong light, or hidden in the deep shadows. The choice of hand-pulled photogravure makes this one of the finest of twentieth century photographic books.
In 1911 Constable and Company of London published the Memorial Edition of the Works of George Meredith. Housed in a separate folio was a set of sixty illustrations, including many drawings and portraits of Meredith, printed in photogravure. Included in this collection are several particularly successful quiet landscape photographs made by Frederick Evans.
Brine, Mary D., Little Lad Jamie. 1895 This charming little book is an example of fine tissue photogravure printing. The photographs are by Emma Justine Farnsworth, an important American amateur at the turn of the century and a member of the American pictorial movement in lead by Alfred Stieglitz.
Illustrated with seventy photogravure plates, Photographs of nebulae and clusters made with the Crossley reflector celebrates James Edward Keeler’s remarkable series of photographs of spiral nebulae and led to the realization that they were exterior galaxies. This work is a triumph of astrophysical and observational skills, astrophotography, and of photogravure as a medium of astronomical illustration.
For Evidence Of The Truth Of The Christian Religion, Derived From The Literal Fulfilment Of The Prophecy Alexander Keith asked his son, the medical doctor George S. Keith of Edinburgh, to make daggureotypes that would show the veracity of the Bible. George’s daggureotypes were made into engravings in order to ‘convince the unprejudiced inquierer or te rational and sincere believer, that it is impossible that his faith be false’ This was one of the earliest publications to incorporate the use of photographs as evidence – albeit not directly
Sun and Shade. An Artistic Periodical 1888 – 1896 This journal included many large, beautifully printed photogravure plates and should be included in any comprehensive survey of influential photographic publications at the turn of the century. Photographers represented include James Leon Williams, Julia Margaret Cameron and Alfred Stieglitz.
Die Kunst in der Photographie. 1897 – 1908 This publication may well be the most important and valuable documentation of art photography in the German language but, because of its rarity, has remained virtually unknown. Some consider it the first photographic journal in the world that concerned itself only with the photographic image and its aesthetics, which ignored all other themes, and treated art photography as an international movement. (David Spencer)
We are fortunate to have recently added to the collection a complete set of “Sun Artists”, an excellent example of photogravure’s influence on the evolution of the art of photography.
From the introduction…” In producing ‘Sun Artists’ it is their endeavour to emphasize the artistic claims of photography by reproducing the best work in the best possible manner…The whole series, it is hoped will form a true, because comprehensive, representation of modern artistic photography. In this sense, the promoters confidently believe that ‘Sun Artists’ discovers virgin soil…The plates in the first number have been executed by the Typographic Etching Company to whom great credit is due for the delicacy and perfection of their reproduction… The day is dawning when Nature as rendered by photography will occupy a much larger share in the esteem of cultured men, when Truth as Truth will also be conceded its claim to beauty. The ripeness of Time my not have yet of come; should such prove the case, “Sun Artists” will help to prepare the way. In however small a degree, it is at once the ambition and the pride of the promoters of this serial to be associated with a movement which strives to gain for Photography a recognition until now denied her.
Sun Artists No. 1, Joseph Gale
Sun Artists No. 2, Henry Peach Robinson
Sun Artists No. 3, J.B.B. Wellington
Sun Artists No. 4, Lyddell Sawyer
Sun Artists No. 5, Julia Margaret Cameron
Sun Artists No. 6, B. Gay Wilkinson
Sun Artists No. 7, Mrs. F.W. H. Myers
Sun Artists No. 8, Frank Meadow Sutcliffe
Sun Artists (original series). Edited by W. Arthur Boord. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner and Co. …, 1889-1891
Recent portfolios added to this database include selections from:
G.L. Arlaud’s Vingt Études de Nu en Plein Air
Various plates from Camera Notes
Frantisek Drtikol’s Les Nus de Drtikol
Various plates from The Harriman Alaska Expedition of 1899
Recently I had the privlege of meeting David Spencer – collector, photographer and curator of The Spencer Photographic Archive. David is perhaps the most dedicated person I have met when it comes to the preservation of this material, especially from the pictorial era in Europe when photogravure played such a key role. I am excited to be working closely with David and bringing to this site many of the works from his outstanding collection.
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The photographs in this book, and several others published by P.H. Emerson
between 1887 and 1895, changed the way photography was perceived in the late 19th century. Whereas some photographers imitated painting, using costumes and artificial poses, Emerson emphasized naturalism
or truthfulness in his photography claiming that photography could be an independent art with its own values. Emerson embraced the newly refined photogravure process for its soft and impressionistic qualities illustrating, in this book, honest pictures of East Anglian peasant and fishermen life.
In 1894 the Photo-Club of Paris (‘Photo-Club de Paris’) with Constant Puyo, Robert Demachy, René Le Begue, Hachette and De Singly held its first exhibition the ‘Première exposition d’art photographique’. This virtual exhibition contains all the plates printed as photogravures in the catalogue of the second exhibition that took place in 1895; the ‘Deuxième exposition d’art photographique’.
Within this exhibition there are some well known names such as Alfred Stieglitz from the USA and the founders of the Photo Club, Constant Puyo, Robert Demachy and René Le Begue but the key point is to appreciate the international flavor for the pictorialists in the 1890s. The photographers represented in the catalogue are from France, Germany, Belgium, Holland, England, Scotland, Austria and the USA while others from Italy, Germany and Switzerland were included in the hung exhibition.
Hans Watzek (1848-1903) and Hugo Henneberg (1863-1918) from Austria would go on to found the ‘The Clover Leaf’ (‘Das Kleeblatt’ or ‘Trifolium’) society of pictorialist photographers with Heinrich Kühn in 1896. Although many of the photographers listed are relatively unknown J. Craig Annan (1864-1946) was a masterful Scottish photographer and in the 1890s he printed the photographs of David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson. Also of note is Baron Adolph de Meyer who became one of the greatest of the early fashion photographers and was the chief photographer at Vogue in the USA for many years.
The history of photography has not been kind to many people and most of the photographers shown here are now forgotten but we should resist using modern viewpoints to judge the talents of these amateurs. They were involved in a movement that fundamentally changed the course of artistic photography.
Alan Griffiths, Luminous-Lint