Woodburytype – Men of Mark

001-darwin022The Woodburytype is a photomechanical reproduction process that is the only process that reproduces the continuous tone  seen in a real photograph. While a copperplate photogravure produces a continuous tone, the resulting image is not strictly “photographic” but much more interpretive and somewhat graphic (and of course gorgeous).

As Wikipedia relates the Woodburytype process entails:

“A chromated gelatin film is exposed under a photographic negative, which hardens in proportion to the amount of light. Then it is developed in hot water to remove all the unexposed gelatin and dried. This relief is pressed into a sheet of lead in a press with 5000 psi. This is an intaglio plate. It is used as a mold and is filled with pigmented gelatin. The gelatin layer is then pressed onto a paper support.”

007-process029The continuous tone pigmented gelatin replaces the silver gelatin of a traditional print. A Woodburytype looks like a photograph. That you create it in the final step with a pigmented gelatin implies you can do a wide range of interpretations in the tone of the print. The prints I am showing here come from a series of portrait books Men of Mark – a series of books preceding Coburn’s later photogravure series of notable men. I have all seven of these volumes – some falling apart but pages and images in excellent condition – others well preserved with intact binding.

Lock and Whitfield provided the gorgeous photographs of notable men, while the journalist Thompson Cooper provided the biographies accompanying each portrait.

The portraits are exquisite. For all intents and purposes they look like a true photograph.

This YouTube video is fantastic at showing the process in action! Thanks Eastman House! (A legacy of a the late tragedy of George Eastman – founder of Kodak.) That the process yields photographic quality is astonishing.

As you look at the images (pardon my dust – I haven’t scanned in a while, should’ve been more careful about dust), pay attention to the detail. In real life, the images are simply beautiful to look at – the scans do not do them justice.

008-verne030Many of the men of note I do not recognize. I started this note with Charles Darwin, easily recognized (an seemingly an accomplished sitter for photographs – does he alway look the same?). Jules Verne is another name that is recognizable today.

009-vernebio031Each image is accompanied by a biography. As seen for Jules Verne.

I think at this point I would observe that the typesetting of the book is equally beautiful. The initial at the start begins the description.

A pigmented gelatin process is likely extremely archival, and the paper used in for mounting the prints and for the typeset pages seems of high quality – no significant deterioration or brittleness.

002-cover023The cover of the volumes itself are finely wrought in gilt. A testament to the bookbinder’s art.

004-owen025It is somewhat fitting to include Richard Owen towards the end of this writing. A controversial early paleontologist, famously discovering many dinosaurs for the first time (when not stealing credit from others), he was infamous for rejecting the theory of evolution being propounded by the above Charles Darwin.

Victor remarked as he walked by as I sit here writing in Vin Vino Wine “He needs to learn to smile.” The men in these portraits are decidedly serious. I like the wine tastings here, and I think I’m happier than a lot of these fellows of mark.

005-bookseller027One fun thing about buying old books looking for examples of historic photographic reproduction processes is the ephemera you find in them. I found a booksellers stamp in the back of the book discreetly placed. A print of the time shows the bookseller “Under the Tree”. Alas, I can’t find a modern reference to Passmore.

006-kuo_sung_tao028And all men they are seemingly – not a woman of mark to write about. About the closest I could find to a smile on a quick glance is from Kuo Sung-Tao, the ambassador to Great Britain and France for the Qing Dynasty. Perhaps he was musing on the lack of women in the book?

Definitely want to track down any current practitioners of the Woodburytype. That YouTube video showed a modern print being made. I’m now very curious.

P.S. The Getty has a great short book on this process!

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