Arguably the most beautiful, challenging, and labor-intensive of the traditional photographic processes, photogravure printmaking is among the earliest, dating back to the mid-1800s. Best noted in the work of Edward S. Curtis in his epic anthropological study “The North American Indian”, which he editioned from 1907-1930, the photogravure quickly gave way to more affordable silver-gelatin printing popularized by Eastman Kodak’s Brownie camera. Prior to Kodak, artists, the church, and businesses primarily turned to printmakers who used presses to render quality images for distribution. Photogravure has come out of the long tradition of intaglio printmaking whereby artisan printmakers, working in conjunction with artists, would create an image by carving, engraving, or etching (with resists and acid) into a metal substrate, wiping oil-based ink into the grooves or pits created, and then running it through a printing press onto dampened paper.
While there are traditional printmakers still employing copper plates to make photogravures, most have moved on to use steel-backed polymer plates due to the quality, consistency, efficiency, and the more environmentally friendly nature of that approach. Polymer plates are both photosensitive and water-soluble, allowing the image to be etched into the plate using water instead of acid. The polymer plate method was introduced to the printmaking world in the 1970s by Dan Welden, a veteran artist and printmaker who discovered the fine art application of these plates, which had only recently been introduced by the semiconductor industry, where they were (and still are to some extent) used to cast molds for creating printed circuit boards.
Regardless of the technology used to create a quality plate, the true artistry and craftsmanship comes through in how the plate is printed. The type of inks and modifiers employed, the method of wiping, the level of care taken, the choice of paper, the amount of pressure given at the press, and method of drying and flattening the final print are only a few of the many variables that come together to create a high-quality, hand-printed, photogravure print. More information at http://intaglioeditions.com