Copper Plate Photogravure

Copper Plate PhotogravureI’m sitting pre-dawn in a spartan room at an Econo Lodge in Hadley, Massachusetts. My son and I will start a photogravure workshop with Jon Goodman at 9AM this morning. I was finishing up a more careful read of David Morrish and Marlene MacCallum‘s text Copper Plate Photogravure: Demystifying the Process. Still in print, this book is the most comprehensive modern text on the process. Published by Focal Press, it is yet another one of their fine photography publications.

Working photographers, practicing photogravurists, and educators, MacCallum and Morrish write in a clear, crisp style carefully explaining chapter by chapter each step in the copper plate photogravure process. The chapters are each well organized starting with preparation, process and troubleshooting at the end. The book itself opens up with an historical overview of the process and its prime practitioners up to modern times.

My one quibble with the book is the lack of a brief overview of the entire process, which was a critique I had of the first edition of Arentz’s work on Platinum and Palladium Printing. This is not as problematic as with the Arentz first edition as the well rendered color illustrations in the middle of this book show the steps in the process visually and help you imagine the whole.

Spartan work space at the Econo Lodge - © 2009 Brian PawlowskiMorrish and MacCallum advocate the use of a halftone or aquatint screen in a double exposure process comparable to what I do with polymer plate work. The traditional dust grain approach is left to a very short description in the Chapter 10 on historic methods. The beginning of the book describes making the image positive using traditional film methods. Digital positives are mentioned in passing and the reader is referred to Burkholder’s work. The fine art step in the process – the printing itself, is covered in great detail. Given the demise of Autotype film, the chapter by Sandy King on making your own carbon tissue may be useful in the future.

The authors are advocates of safety, suggesting avoiding ferric chloride in its solid form, and dressing for the occasion when using chemicals, especially the potassium dichromate. Nasty stuff. Long gloves, goggles, apron, respirator and ventilation. Do not treat dichromates with other than the utmost respect and careful handling. Dispose of dichromates at a hazardous waste drop off.

A list of suppliers at the end of the book is helpful. I would note that suppliers of photographic materials are becoming fewer and farther apart. But the process is primarily based around readily available materials used in the traditional fine arts, and use of digital positives can get one past the diminishing suppliers of traditional copy film. The stumbling block then comes down to the gelatin resist material.

It really is a joy to read such a meticulously written text, with abundant illustrations and practical suggestions on what is far and away a complex photographic reproduction process. But the end results of the process, a true continuous tone reproduction method which blows open the vistas of using a wide variety of papers and inks to produce sublime images of lasting beauty probably warrant the attempt to master it.

In a couple hours, I’ll begin that journey.

One Comment

  1. Posted Thursday, September 17, 2009 at 3:30 am | Permalink

    Oh. So there is a site from the authors that has a link to a brief summary of the steps for the process.

    That is helpful.

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  1. […] briefly reviewed Copper Plate Photogravure: Demystifying the Process a few weeks back. It is still in print, and available on at the time of this writing. A […]

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