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Gravures

Photogravure is an intaglio printmaking process initially developed in the 1830s by Henry Fox Talbot in England and Nicéphore Niépce in France. These early images were among the first photographs, pre-dating daguerreotypes and the later wet-collodian photographic processes. Photogravure in its mature form was developed in 1878 by Czech painter Karel Klí_ (Karel Klitsch)(1841-1926). This process, the one still in use today, is called the Talbot-Kli_ process.

Photogravure was developed to provide an archival permanent way of reproducing a photographic image. Because of its high quality and richness, photogravure was used for both original fine art prints and for photo-reproduction of works from other media such as paintings.. In France the correct term for photogravure is héliogravure, while the French term photogravure refers to any photo-based etching technique.

Photogravure registers an extraordinary variety of tones, through the transfer of etching ink from an etched copperplate to special dampened paper run through an etching press. The unique tonal range comes from photogravure’s variable depth of etch, that is, the shadows are etched many times deeper than the highlights. Unlike half-tone processes which merely vary the size of dots, the actual quantity and depth of ink wells are varied in a photogravure plate and are often blended into a smooth tone by the printing process. Photogravure practitioners such as Peter Henry Emerson and others brought the art to a very high standard of expression in the late 19th century. This continued with the work of Alfred Stieglitz in the early 20th century, especially in relation to his publication Camera Work. This publication also featured the photogravures of Alvin Langdon Coburn who was a fine gravure printer and envisioned his photographic work as gravures rather than other photo-based processes.

Heliogravure is a technical trick using chemicals to make printing plates for intaglio engraving. The work is reproduced on metal by photographic transfer. Felicien Rops discovered that heliogravure is a practical way of transferring his drawings to copperplate. He often reworked his plates by hand, according to traditional etching techniques, sometimes arriving at a stage when a mere photochemical image was transformed into an etching, which combined the photo with the original.

The technique is derived from a photomechanical process for imprinting on a copper or steel plate using sunlight or artificial light. Practiced primarily in France after 1880 by Henri Garnier.

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