What is a Photogravure?

Paul Unks of Mountain Hawk explains the craft:


Copper photogravure plate of Geronimo

Developed in the 1850’s, an intaglio photogravure is produced through a complex painstaking hand-made process whereby the original photographic image is etched into a metal plate allowing the plate to hold ink. Then, oil based ink is carefully applied by hand onto the etched plate so that the ink is pushed down into the etched grooves of the plate that range in depth from deep (dark) to shallow (light). Once the printing plate is properly inked, high quality moistened paper is placed on the inked plate and then hand cranked in a press at 10,000 lbs of pressure causing the paper to squeeze down into the grooves of the plate. After the paper fibers have absorbed the ink, the paper is carefully peeled off the plate leaving the image deeply embossed into the paper fibers creating a fine art print that has the subtle detail of a photograph, the velvety texture of an etching and richness of an oil painting.

The technical difficulties of the process can seem infinite and insurmountable at times, prompting Ansel Adams to remark, “Photogravure is a most beautiful technique, but I would not recommend anyone do it”.

NOTE: There are only a handful of master printers in the world today who make hand-made photogravure plates and prints. And Mountain Hawk is the only one producing Curtis’ original photographs as he did, as intaglio photogravures, each archival print individually hand-made, one at a time, restoring Curtis’ original fine photographic detail that had previously been lost, to new plates. Using this traditional classic method, Mountain Hawk is faithfully and authentically completing the edition Curtis started, but wasn’t able to finish in his life time.

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