Edison’s Light

Celebrating the beauty and history of the photogravure process and the important role it has played in the evolution of fine art photography.


American Institute of Conservation holds Photomechanical Prints: History, Technology, Aesthetics, and Use Symposium

October 31 – November 2, 2023, 10:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

For roughly 150 years, people have been accustomed to seeing photomechanical prints on a daily basis. Prints exist in a variety of milieus with multiple variations over time, use, and geography. Historic and contemporary examples are prevalent in museums, libraries, archives, and personal collections worldwide. Photomechanical prints were developed to fill many needs including practical and economical methods for mass reproduction, techniques to facilitate the simultaneous printing of images and text, increased image permanence, a perception of increased truthfulness and objectivity, and an autonomous means of artistic expression. They exist at the intersections of numerous disciplines: photography and printmaking, functional and artistic practices, the histories of photography and the graphic arts, and the specialties of paper and photograph conservation.

The program will provide an opportunity for conservators, curators, historians, scientists, collections managers, catalogers, archivists, librarians, educators, printmakers, artists, and collectors to convene and collaborate while exploring all aspects of photomechanical printing. The resulting advancement of our collective understanding of these ubiquitous but under-researched materials will allow for new interpretations and improved approaches to their collection, interpretation, preservation, treatment, and display. 

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Etched by Light: Photogravures from the Collection, 1840–1940 exhibition at The National Gallery of Art

October 15, 2023 – February 4, 2024 West Building, Ground Floor – Gallery 22

Discover an intriguing chapter in the history of photography.

In the 19th and 20th centuries innovative practitioners searched for and perfected a method to produce identical photographic prints in ink. The process came to be called photogravure. These yielded some of the most beautiful photographs ever made—featuring delicate highlights, lush blacks, a remarkably rich tonal range, and a velvety matte surface. Etched by Light: Photogravures from the Collection, 1840–1940 tells the story of the first 100 years of this process.

Artists and scientists working across Europe from the 1840s through the 1870s were dismayed to discover that identical silver-based photographic prints were not only difficult to make but also faded quickly. Building on one another’s discoveries, innovators such as William Henry Fox Talbot, Hippolyte Fizeau, and Charles Nègre advanced a method for etching a photographic image into a copperplate and printing it in ink. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, photographers such as James Craig AnnanPeter Henry Emerson, and Alfred Stieglitz utilized this process to demonstrate the artistic nature of photography. Somewhat later photographers such as Man Ray, and Laure Albin Guillot used the technique to create large, bold pictures that they disseminated widely.

See 40 photogravures and 4 bound volumes illustrated with photogravures, many never before exhibited. Etched by Light shows how these works, through their proliferation, have helped shape our collective visual experience.

The exhibition coincides with the symposium Photomechanical Prints: History, Technology, Aesthetics, and Use, organized by the FAIC Collaborative Workshops in Photograph Conservation and hosted by the photograph conservation department of the National Gallery from October 31 to November 2, 2023.

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