The Art of the Photogravure
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July 13th, 2007

“The Beginnings of Photogravure in Nineteenth-Century France” by Malcolm Daniel


Roofs of Paris Louis Armand Hippolyte Fizeau, 1843

Malcolm Daniel, The Curator in charge of the Department of Photographs at the Metropolitan Museum and an expert in the early history of photogravure has generously agreed to allow to post his important essay, "The Beginnings of Photogravure in Nineteenth-Century France."

This essay is adapted from a paper first presented at a colloquium on photogravure at the Institute for Research in Art / Graphicstudio, University of South Florida, Tampa, March 22-24, 1995.  It was published in French translation in Graver la Lumière: L’héliogravure d’Alfred Stieglitz à nos jours ou la reconquête d’un instrument perdu (Vevey, Switzerland: Fondation William Cuendet & Atelier de Saint-Prex, Musée Jenisch, 2002). Hank Hine invited Malcolm to explore the topic at the colloquium in Tampa and Jon Goodman, a fellow participant in Tampa, suggested that he publish the paper as part of the Musée Jenisch exhibition catalogue.

 Download PDF article

July 12th, 2007

B&W Magazine: The Photogravures of Andrew Xenios

Xenios_04.jpgLet’s face it; photogravure needs all the good press it can get. That is why I am happy to have learned that in its April 2007 issue (B&W; Issue 50). Black and White magazine featured an interview with photographer and photogravure printer, Andrew Xenios.

Xenios who is American-born, lives in Merida, Mexico.  He was trained at the Rhode Island School of Design and his work can be found in private collections as well as prestigious museum collections around the world.

Download Article (PDF) 

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 17th, 2007

Andrew Smith Gallery Exhibits Signed Camera Work Photogravures


June 22 – August 2007

Santa Fe’s Andrew Smith Gallery opens an exhibit of classic photographs by ALFRED STIEGLITZ, EDWARD STEICHEN and GERTRUDE KASEBIER on Thursday, June 22, 2007.

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….

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

May 7th, 2007

Contemporary Photogravure

18722_std.jpgPeter Miller has assembled a ‘personal favorites’ collection of contemporary photogravure practitioners and posted the gallery on Luminous-Lint.  A short introduction accompanies the on line exhibit….



visit exhibit



Image Copyright Lothar Osterburg 

April 23rd, 2007

At Auction…




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

April 13th, 2007

A Natural Eye for a Fading Time in England

ART REVIEW – from the Los Angeles Times
By Leah Ollman

Peter Henry Emerson took both sides in the late 19th century debate about photography’s status as an art. First, he fiercely defended the medium’s expressive potential, laying out his case in a landmark 1889 book. A year after its publication, however, Emerson reversed his stance and asserted that photography’s technical constraints trumped its artistic possibilities after all.

The debate itself — carried out not just internally, Emerson versus Emerson, but also heatedly in photography journals and associations — comprises a crucial but remote chapter in the medium’s history. A century later, the arguments have receded, become quaint, while Emerson’s photographs endure — deeply beautiful, evocative works that make the most convincing case of all for the medium’s power.


emerson ph 00006.jpg

Emerson, born in 1856, spent his childhood on his family’s sugar plantation in Cuba and in the U.S. but settled permanently in England as a teenager. He took up photography in the early 1880s, using it almost exclusively to explore the marshlands and rural lifestyles of the coastal region of East Anglia. Over a decade, the period covered in the Getty Museum’s sumptuous show, "The Old Order and the New: P.H. Emerson and Photography, 1885-1895," he published six books and two portfolios of photographs and text on the area.

Rail travel had recently made the East Anglian counties of Norfolk and Suffolk accessible to tourists, shifting land values and threatening the traditional ways of the region’s farmers and fisher folk. Several other photographers published travel guides to the area and its attractions, but Emerson adopted a more anthropological approach, keyed to understanding and preserving the manners and customs of the locals. In attitude, he aligned with John Ruskin and William Morris in championing pre-industrial labor; aesthetically, he found inspiration in paintings of ennobled peasantry by Jean-Francois Millet and Jules Bastien-Lepage.

Emerson’s photographs showing fowl hunters, hay gatherers and reed cutters make poignant records of passing ways of life. They also manifest what Emerson regarded as the essence of photography — its ability to present a naturalistic image, from life. To him, that meant replicating the way the eye registers a scene, with the object of chief attention in sharpest focus and the rest more softly defined. His notion was deemed radical in its day, an upstart challenge to the more popular practice of combination printing, joining multiple negatives to create a narrative scene in crisp focus from edge to edge.

One of Emerson’s most exquisite images, and a prime example of his concept of naturalistic photography, is "Gathering Water Lilies," printed in platinum in the 1887 masterwork "Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads." Emerson’s composition leads the eye directly to a white blossom being lifted from the water by a woman leaning over the edge of a rowboat. Dense reeds behind and tree branches to one side seem to shelter the boat in its placid pocket of the marsh. The picture is a harmonious gem but also part of an informative chronicle of labor: The lilies served as bait of sorts for a type of fish caught in bow nets, like the one folded behind the boat’s oarsman.

The exhibition, organized by the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television in Bradford, England, in association with the Getty, surveys well Emerson’s practice, his context and his contemporaries.

It concludes with selections from his final photographic project, the graphically spare, atmospherically rich "Marsh Leaves" (1895). Hung next to kindred lithographs by Whistler, these final pictures form a coda of understated drama to Emerson’s photographic career. Reductive and unsentimental, they distill the unpeopled landscape to silhouetted forms in lush, charcoal tones. Their vast, empty spaces invite philosophical reflection.

Emerson could be an arrogant showman (issuing medals with his own likeness to photographers he deemed worthy) and a great wit (publishing his renunciation of photographic art in the form of a funeral notice). Above all, he was an impassioned, sensitive observer committed to both visual and emotional truth. "Remember," he wrote to students of photography, "that your photograph is a rough index of your mind; it is a sort of rough confession on paper."

April 6th, 2007

Emerson Exhibit at the Getty

Emerson_06_06.jpgFrom The
By Jim Farber, Staff Writer

PETER HENRY Emerson is the most important and influential 19th-century photographer of whom you’ve probably never heard.
Born May 13, 1856, in Cuba, the son of a British sugar plantation owner and fourth cousin to Ralph Waldo Emerson, he was briefly in America during the Civil War before moving to England, where he attended Cambridge University. Emerson was a renowned athlete and outdoorsman, a physician, a self-styled anthropologist, a devoted Darwinian, a prolific writer/lecturer and a vitriolic critic of those who contradicted his philosophy of photography as "pictorial art." For the last 23 years, one of the great collections of Emerson’s published work has been resting serenely in the vaults of the Getty Museum. Now these remarkable albums are on display as part of a major collaborative exhibition "The Old Order and the New: P.H. Emerson and Photography, 1885-1895." "Why didn’t we display them before?" the Getty’s curator of photography, Weston Naef, asked, as he presided over the exhibition’s opening in March. "There are about 18 published volumes. And if you bring all 18 out and open each to one page, they would only fill two very large tables." The key to making the exhibita reality, he said, was to form a partnership with an existing collection in which the pictures were removed from their original texts. That partner turned out to be the Museum of Photography, Film and Television at Bradford (recently renamed the National Media Museum) in Yorkshire, England. "We borrowed an exhibition they had created for their galleries," Naef said, " and reshaped it to suit our space and provide a context for our albums." The task of dovetailing the two collections, which showcase more than 150 photographs, publications and related ephemera, fell to Anne Lyden, the Getty’s associate curator of photography.

Working with her English counterparts, John Taylor and Philippa Wright, the three curators chose a theme for the exhibit based on the title of one of Emerson’s photographs: "The Old Order and the New."
In the photograph, which is rendered in the soft gray tones synonymous with platinum prints, three men drift in a sailboat somewhere on the Norfolk Broads, that unique landscape of lakes, streams and marshland common to England’s East Anglia. In the distance, an outmoded windmill lies dormant, while its mechanized replacement belches out a plume of steam. It was this confrontation between the old ways and the new, combined with the natural beauty of the region, Lyden said, that stimulated Emerson. "Emerson saw the modernizing effects of the Industrial Revolution having a terrible impact on the region, which was largely rural," Lyden explained. "He’s clearly of a different class than they are," she said. "He’s very affluent, and he’s coming to this very impoverished area. But he sees something heroic in these people and he wants to celebrate it. He gains their trust and immerses himself in their society. He even learns their dialect. At the same time, he takes a very Darwinian approach. And in his texts he refers to them as `peasants’ and `specimens.’ " Ironically, in his effort to preserve the traditions of the past, Emerson incorporated tools that represented the latest technological advancements in photography. His equipment included a stock of the new gelatin dry plates, which freed photographers from the necessity to process film in the field. He carried a light view camera with a relatively long lens that offered variable focusing, he incorporated a variable speed shutter capable of freezing action and he produced a 6-by-8-inch glass negative.

While the equipment Emerson used would have been familiar to the photographers of his day, his theories regarding photography as a means of observing nature were completely unique. And his guiding principle was the action of the human eye. "The image which we receive by the eye," he wrote, "is like a picture minutely and elaborately finished in the center, but only roughly sketched in at the borders. The principal object in the photograph must be fairly sharp. Everything else must be subdued … slightly out of focus." Today, we take Emerson’s "soft focus" approach for granted. But in 1886, when he published his first pioneering book of photographs and anthropological commentary, "Life and Landscapes on the Norfolk Broads," the effect caused quite a stir. When he elaborated upon his ideas in 1889 in an instructional treatise (and aesthetic diatribe) called "Naturalistic Photography for Students of the Art," the effect, a writer of the day recalled, was like "a bombshell dropped in a tea party." Prior to Emerson, the notion of "fine art photography" meant slavishly mimicking the sentimental style favored by painters of Victorian England. Emerson’s work rebelled against it, embracing the new approach to landscapes represented by painters such as Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and the members of the Barbizon school. Emerson called for an entirely new direction in photography based on observations drawn directly from nature, as exemplified in his most famous image, "Gathering Water Lilies." "Nature," he wrote, "is the great refiner, the poor man’s poet and painter."
Wandering through the galleries of the Getty Museum, it’s nearly impossible not to fall under the subtle spell of Emerson’s images, with their somber skies, wafting reeds, glittering streams and stoic "peasants."
Perhaps Nancy Newhall, noted photography critic and author, stated it best when she wrote, "P.H. Emerson was probably the first true photographer-poet."















March 28th, 2007

In Search of the “Naturalistics”: Emerson in Context

Sunday April 1, 2007
4 pm
Museum Lecture Hall, Getty Center

Emerson was an influential and controversial polemicist for a new movement in art photography. In this lecture Hope Kingsley, historian and curator of photography, traces Emerson’s sources in art and optical theory and discusses their relevance to photography in the 19th century. Complements the exhibition The Old Order and The New: P.H. Emerson and Photography, 1885-1895. 

February 20th, 2007

Physiological Optics: The Photography of Peter Henry Emerson

University of Delaware, Homer Lecture on Photography

Douglas Nickel, director of the Center for Creative Photography and associate professor of art at the University of Arizona, will be the featured speaker at the William I. Homer Lecture on Photography  today at 5:30 p.m. in 006 Willard Hall Education Building.

Nickel’s lecture, “Physiological Optics: The Photography of Peter Henry Emerson,” is part of UD’s Department of Art History lecture series, “Liminal Visions, Elusive Objects.”

Widely regarded as the father of art photography, Emerson was both a key theorist of photographic esthetics and one of the medium’s most advanced practitioners. In his lecture, Nickel will examine Emerson’s ideas about photography as a case study in how the history of photography might be conducted and revitalized as an aspect of art history. Nickel has won several awards and fellowships for his work and has lectured and written extensively on a broad range of topics in photography.

The lecture is free and open to the public. An informal question-and-answer session will follow the talk. The event is sponsored by UD’s Department of Art Conservation and the Committee on Cultural Activities and Public Events. For more information, call (302) 831-4523.

February 5th, 2007

Antiques Roadshow and Camera Work

CameraWork_03_10.jpgWell folks, photogravure has finally made it! On the January 29th episode of the Antiques Roadshow Camera Work was introduced to a nation of treasure hunters. 

The owner of the 25 volumes must have been quite pleased to hear that Daile Kaplan at Swann Galleries would estimate their worth somewhere between $60,000 and $90,000 (hammer).

Surprise, surprise… The partial set is on the block next week (Feb. 15th) at Swann.  Check it out…..

January 22nd, 2007

The Architecture of the Book: An International Symposium

Hosted by Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, the west coast campus of Memorial University, located in Corner Brook, Newfoundland and Labrador, The Architecture of the Book will facilitate critical discourse on the artist’s book from interdisciplinary and trans-disciplinary perspectives. Sessions will be held in conjunction with The Architectural Uncanny, an exhibition of prints, photographs and book works by Marlene MacCallum, and will coincide with the 20th anniversary cele bration of The March Hare, Atlantic Canada’s largest poetry festival.    


            Marlene MacCallum, from Domestic Arcana, hand bound book work using photogravure and letterpress, 1999


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