Make no mistake: it’s extremely arduous work, but the gorgeous, otherworldly prints coming out of our intaglio studio right now prove that photogravure is well worth the investment. This week we welcomed the venerable master printer and photogravurist Lothar Osterburg back to our studios for his third summer leading our fearless SAI students through the ins and outs of this historical process – in just three intense days.
See those glowy highlights and those velvety sculptural blacks? As a true continuous tone etching process, photogravure can produce a nearly infinite tonal range – much wider than that of any other photographic or printmaking process. But it’s not an easy go: from image prep to final print, there are a myriad of technical difficulties and potential missteps.
Our students spent their first day in the digital lab at the Center for Photography at Woodstock preparing their images and making film positives before returning to WSW’s intaglio studio. The positives are exposed to light-sensitive gelatin, the gelatin is hardened then transferred onto copper plates. An aquatint layer is applied and melted onto the gelatin, and the plate is etched, with shadows etching deeply and highlights etching shallowly. When the etching is complete, the printing begins! Photogravure plates are run through a press just like in the intaglio process, and the results are truly exceptional.
Photogravure follows the tradition of late 19th and early 20th century photographers such as Alfred Stieglitz, whose quarterly Camera Work helped elevate the status of photography to that of fine art with its high-quality original photogravures lovingly hand-pulled in each copy. We think Stieglitz would be pretty impressed with what our students have accomplished in so little time!