Today is a day I have waited for 30 years. I just now pulled my very first photogravure on Japanese tissue paper.
The image below was shot on the streets of Peru in the early 80’s. The only period during which I ever worked with a handheld 35mm camera. This is of course a jpeg made in photoshop and not a photogravure, the subtleties of which would not remotely carry over to a web image. And besides, it would involve photographing a photograph; a pretty silly pursuit.
It worked and it looked good. Of course, with some experience it will look even better; I hope! At last, I can get precisely what I want out of a print. It has been a very long time coming.
Just a little background…
I became interested in photogravure about 30+ years ago. At the time it was my privilege to handle some of Edward S. Curtis’ largest original photogravure prints made on Japanese tissue paper. (This is a bullet proof art paper that looks like nothing else on Earth.) The tissue print versions of his work are the rarest and most sought after.
Photogravure is one of the three printing processes for photographs considered to be among the most beautiful and stable. They are:
Photogravure is the most difficult and until now, the most expensive. In recent years various advances have been made that have resulted in the process becoming less expensive and a bit easier.
In August of 2013, I learned of a new approach for getting the image onto a plate for the purpose of exposing the plate, that was the last major key to making the whole thing practical and within reason from the standpoint of cost. It took several months to put the equipment together and start experimenting. The new process wasn’t entirely usable so I spent some of those months working on those wrinkles, with success.
Previously I had printed a number of test images on cotton rag printmaking papers, but not on Japanese tissue, the original goal. Just before the move to Fort Davis I purchased a couple different types of tissue in roll form for testing, from Hiromi Paper in California, but the move caused that testing to be put off until today.
There is a long tradition in fine art photography of printing photogravures on Japanese tissue. It started with Alfred Stieglitz and the gravures he tipped into his famous magazine Camera Work, and reached its zenith with the monumental and extraordinary work of Edward S. Curtis. Gravure has experienced a renewed interest in recent years but still has not approached the strength of its heyday. This new approach may lead to a long overdue revival.
More on this in coming days.
BTW, I have not posted the last couple of days because I lost an altercation with a friend’s dog on Saturday and am busy licking my wounds. The dog is in a corner somewhere, snickering! It’s true what they say: those jaws can really crush tissue! I have a calf with some funny angles to it that didn’t used to be there.
Yesterday was a complete loss. This morning was much better. I woke up to find Blue Mountain bathed in fog and immediately saw opportunity. Threw camera and dog into the car and took off across the pastures. Stayed out about three hours, running from spot to spot. Actually, I drive. Wendy runs like she thinks it is her last chance in life. This morning I looked up to see her as a speck on the horizon. No fear in that dog. No brains either, but no fear.
Eventually everything turned the same dull gray and I went home for a second cup of coffee. I’m writing this at 4 in the afternoon. Still looks dull outside. Maybe later.
This is the Blue Mountain Image I decided to work with…
Oversaturated image below helps with controlling B&W tones.
Below is one of the images I shot mid-morning after some initial modifications. It is far from finished, but will give you the idea of where I am headed with it.
Here’s that same image as it came from the camera.
Here it is again, after increasing color saturation in advance of manipulating the gray tones. Oversaturated color photographs are in very bad taste, but as a tool for B&W, saturation is very helpful.
That makes two images in one day that look like they may work out. That’s very good. Usually, it is one or none. Of course, living in the middle of my work may up my percentages a bit. We’ll see.
I’m hoping to go out again in a little while, but it is getting quite windy.
A beautiful morning today. Very still air. Very slightly cool requiring just a T-shirt. Sky still very orange near the sun, with long thin clouds just above the horizon. Everything very soft. I did not feel inspired to go photograph (everybody has to go to work, inspired or not) but I couldn’t face sitting in a dark office on so beautiful a morning, either.
My office is dark because it is in the center of the house. In fact, at one time my office pretty much was the house. Built in 1850 (not a typo) this house is very solid with adobe walls a foot and a half thick, so as to resist attack. And I don’t mean Mormon missionaries!
There are six doors in my quite large office and one small window which I have blacked out so that I can work with UV sensitive materials. Someone started installing track lighting at one time, but didn’t get past the first strip, so the room is funeral home dark without extra lighting and even then, it is problematic. Only moved in two months ago, so eventually will get around to adding better lighting. The house has been greatly expanded over the years and is now quite large. With 12 foot ceilings and plenty of windows in all the other rooms, it feels quite open and spacious. Except for a seriously leaky roof in a couple of rooms (being worked on), this is really a wonderful old house, worthy of a movie.
I put my camera case (actually a fishing tackle box; those seldom get stolen) in the car so as to have an excuse to go have my coffee out in one of the pastures. My assistant Wendy jumped in and we went to work. I realized right away that I would need some establishing pictures, so readers might have an idea what the ranch looks like and what kind of landscape I have to work with. These will all be handheld snapshots intended only for this purpose and I will freely manipulate them to make them more visually pleasing for the blog. Only with photographs I intend as serious work will I post an image exactly as it came out of the camera, without improvements.
The above view is from a position standing between two hills, looking SE. Most of the hills on the ranch have no names, but the one visible on the left is locally called Lizard Mountain. I don’t think it actually has any sort of recorded name. At the base of Lizard Mountain on the far right, just out of sight behind that little end that sticks up, is my house. To the left, out of the frame is Blue Mountain. That name is official and it is well known locally.
When I turn 180 degrees to look behind me, on the left is the only other hill with a name: Teepee. From one perspective it is sort of triangular.
Still standing, sort of, 180 degrees from the photograph where Wendy is helping. Turning to the opposite side, the North end of the other hill, which has no name, is below.
So, to further orient the reader. There are two pairs of hills, one to the South and one to the North. My route this morning was between both pairs. From Lizard Mountain, northward to Teepee.
As I made the images above, as I said, to give you an idea of the terrain, I also put the camera on a tripod two or three times to make more serious images. They failed miserably. Such is life. Sometimes when uninspired I get good things anyway. Not the case this morning.
Storm clouds starting to form. Maybe something interesting will happen.
I went back out in the afternoon, after posting all of the above. Thought I had something better. I did. It was a better class of boring.
Some days you eat the bear. Some days the bear eats you.
Maybe a better day tomorrow.