The Art of the Photogravure
A Comprehensive Resource Dedicated to the Photogravure
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April 13th, 2013

Photogravure Workshop Results

Tyler Craft, Langkofel, 2012

Tyler Craft was introduced to photogravure when he volunteered to program this site.  He has since become a savvy collector and now has made a photogravure of his own. Tyler is a highly sought-after programmer. His interest in photography is recent, and it is a hobby.  His (very thoughtful) wife gave him a photogravure workshop with Paul Taylor at Renaissance Press as a birthday gift last year.  I was floored by the image he produced from his first attempt.  The point is, while this is a very complicated and laborious process, with the right workshop and teacher one can achieve beautiful results with little to no experience.

If you are interested, Paul’s summer workshop schedule and more information can be viewed here.

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?

April 6th, 2009

Summer Workshop with Paul Taylor

June 25 – 28 and August 7 – 10

Photogravure is perhaps the most beautiful of the photographic processes.  It is also one of the most challenging.  This summer Paul Taylor of Renaissance Press is sharing his expertise and offering two hands-on photogravure workshops.

Paul’s work with early photographic processes spans over thirty years. He is the founder of The Rhode Island School of Design Press and has been teaching photogravure at RISD since 1993. Renaissance Press has published or produced work by artists including Duane Michals, Robert Mapplethorpe, Joel Peter Witkin, Linda Connor, Robert Adams, Aaron Siskind, Roy DeCarava, Tom Baril, and many others.  These prints are collected by museums internationally.

The workshops will take place at Renaissance Press’ atelier in Ashuelot, New Hampshire.  Participants should expect intensive days in a relaxed environment.  Renaissance Press is located on the bank of the Ashuelot and is a 25 minute drive to Keene New Hampshire or Brattleboro Vermont..

Each workshop is limited to 4 participants.

more details after the jump…



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March 21st, 2009

Color Photogravure at Crown Point Press




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.

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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July 17th, 2008

What is Photo-Etching?

From a  recent email…. "I am studying photogravures and don’t understand the difference between photogravure and photo-etching. Can you clarify this for me?"
Embarrassed not knowing the answer, I turned to Jon Goodman, who replied….

Photogravure is an intaglio printing process where a continuous tone image (photograph) is etched into a copper plate by means of a gelatin resist and an aquatint or screen substitute. The gelatin resist controls the etching in a manner that creates a true continuous tone rendering of the image being etched. It is a continuous tone ink printing process. There is no conversion of the “grayscale” into “half-tone” dots.  “Photo-etching” as the word is commonly used is an intaglio process where line or tone is created through what is essentially a black or white “half-tone” process. The etching process either etches the plate or not, there is very little (no) variability in the tone due to the uniformity of the depth of etch.  Gray tones are either created by converting them to “half-tone” or by etching the plate multiple times for varying amounts of time to create different depths in the plate.
The gelatin resist used in photogravure is essentially a “Carbon Print” that has been transferred onto a copper plate instead of a piece of paper. It is the act of the transfer that allows the gelatin to control the etching in a continuous manner. Since the exposed “face” of the gelatin is in contact with the copper plate the hot water development allows the gelatin to adhere to the copper in thickness that is in proportion to the amount of exposure received.  If a gelatin (or other) was simply coated onto the copper and then exposed (as in photo-etching) and developed (no transfer) it would be virtually impossible to render a long continuous scale of tones.

Thanks Jon! 

February 10th, 2008

Photogravure Meets Pop?

IvorySnow.jpgWhile the focus of this site is traditional, I think Pieter Myers’ comments are noteworthy…..
Photogravure enjoys a reputation for excellence in crafting the photographic image. Perhaps because it is a relatively new among graphic media, photogravure has yet to exhibit the freedom of expression that has become the norm in much older graphic techniques. Complicating this evolution, photogravure is a chameleon, encompassing many manifestations of printmaking, and is therefore hard to classify.  Since this confuses almost everyone in the art world, people tend to focus on what they know, i.e., beautiful prints of classic black & white images. As a result, publishers, collectors, and galleries tend to overlook much of the contemporary work being done, such as creative interpretation of the original image and, yes, color. So I would like to open up the dialogue and suggest that it might be time to update the definition of photogravure.
     I recognize that definitions are not popular in today’s ecumenical art world. Yet the blurring of the boundaries between media diminishes the uniqueness and identity of any of them. Because of this, some exhibitions don’t know what to do with photogravure, and interestingly, the American Color Print Society will not accept photogravure no matter how obscured the original photographic image may be. Should we care about this? And how far away from  “photographic” can a subject be before it is no longer a photogravure? Regardless of how you feel about historical purity, I submit that photogravure is uniquely suited to contemporary subject matter, social realism and (why not?) Pop Art.  In my own work I prefer to stay within the traditionally held definition of hand pulled copper plate photogravure in order to keep the integrity of the medium intact. But I am not comfortable with photogravure as primarily a purely photographic medium.  I like to balance the scale, and even tip it more to the graphic side by using a variety of darkroom and etching techniques. If the subject suggests color, I use color. Already I have lost the photogravure traditionalist. Perhaps “avant-garde photogravure” will remain a contradiction in terms. If this is the case, the medium may even be able to hold the line against the horrors of digital manipulation.
    I hope I have stirred up some discussion with these thoughts, but it is not the photogravure police we should be worried about.  The real battle is with all the mechanical reproductions sporting fancy names that masquerade as original prints.  

Pieter S. Myers

November 11th, 2007

Craftsmanship and Technology


New technology is presenting opportunities for ateliers to prepare plates more efficiently, safely and cost effectively. Photopolymer technology offers an alternate to copper plate etching. In order to limit the scope of this site, I have chosen not to include ateliers practicing the modern photopolymer method. However I recently met Chris Pulos, a long time practitioner of photogravure. Chris has practiced both traditional and photopolymer methods.   He sent me an example of photopolymer and I must admit it was quite beautiful. His comments…

"I have been working in photogravure since the early 1970’s when I viewed the first unveiling of the Edward Curtis’ Prints in Boston, Mass. I had the privilege of reprinting the Edward Curtis plates in Santa Fe, NM in 2005. Holding the original early 20th Century copper plates was daunting. The plates had an ageless connection to not only a race of people and an American visionary but to a process that was considered the finest form of printing a photographic image. The early masters all had their images immortalized in this process. The experience led me to set up my own atelier printing limited edition portfolios.

In 2006 I was introduced to Photopolymer Gravure, the 21st Century evolvement of Photogravure. The process utilized contemporary chemistry and physics without the deleterious affects of acids and caustic chemistry; thus environmentally safe. Imagery and positive preparation are done digitally, ground asphaltum is replaced with stochastic screens and acid bath bite becomes a water wash out. Printing with an etching press and intaglio inks is the same as copper. The final print maintains the lushness and depth of tone of copper gravure while creating crisper detail and cleaner imagery. The evolution of photogravure in the contemporary polymer process facilitates the process for the artist wishing to create timeless imagery."

Jon Goodman believes that the digitalization of photography could be the demise of photogravure if an adequate and affordable digital alternative to preparing film positives from digital files is not incorporated.

With regard to the aquatint, traditionally a screen is created by ‘dusting’ the plate with rosin.  New ‘prefab’ screens incorporating stochastic technology however are available today further streamlining the process.  At Lothar Osterberg’s studio in Brooklyn recently, I was able to compare a traditional dust-grain print with a stochastic screen print.  Under a loupe, the traditional method is superior.  Without magnification, however, the differences were much more subtle.

It’s hopeful to believe that these advancements will ensure a healthy future for the photogravure process rather than chip away at the organic qualities that bring it to life.

Please feel free to comment on this topic…..

November 14th, 2006

Is this a photogravure plate?

Recently we were asked if the image below is of a photogravure plate.  We posted the question to some experts and here is what they had to say…

note: The image in ‘blue’ tone is simply the photograph of the plate ‘inverted’ in photoshop to illustrate a positive impression of the plate.

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August 1st, 2006

Jon Goodman Photogravure Workshop

August 15- 19 2006

A 5 day intensive workshop covering the dust grain method of photogravure (Talbot Klic).

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