I made the photogravure reproductions for my own satisfaction as I thought I could get more artistic results than the carbon prints.
It was impossible to predict what impact James Craig Annan’s late-19th-century experiments printing Hill and Adamson’s calotypes in photogravure would have on the future of photography when he began. The documentation of this work is thin. We know that around 1880, Andrew Elliot commissioned the Annan family firm (T&R Annan) to make carbon prints from Hill’s paper negatives for public sale. And we know that Thomas and James Craig learned the photogravure process from Karel Klíč in 1883, only four years after it was invented. So it makes sense that, after learning the process, James Craig Annan understood the Hill and Adamson material could be better interpreted in photogravure. The surface quality alone was enough—like calotypes and salt prints, photogravures have a soft, matte surface.
Despite commercial restrictions limited by the firm’s contract with Elliot (which took nearly 50 years to finally complete), James Craig Annan began to experiment with Hill’s negatives in photogravure. A highly skilled technician, Annan was fastidious, in part because he was a perfectionist and, more importantly, because he felt a personal responsibility to Hill, a family friend and supporter of Annan’s artistic pursuits. Unfortunately, the exact details and timing of Annan’s efforts are lacking.
A photogravurist makes several choices when printing, including the color of the ink and the paper. Annan was certainly meticulous in selecting the most accurate materials for the Hill and Adamson works, as accurate representation of the original salt prints was paramount. Annan’s family firm’s reputation was based on their excellent reproductions of artwork, so much so that in 1889 T&R Annan was appointed the Photographers and Photographic Engravers to her Majesty in Glasgow.
Annan eventually produced a folio of 20 Hill and Adamson images. Over the years, Annan lent Hill and Adamson photogravure prints to exhibitions in Europe and America: Hamburg in 1893 and 1899; Glasgow in 1901; the Scottish Photographic Federation in Perth in 1904; the ‘291’ Gallery in New York in 1906; the Salon in London in 1909; and Buffalo, New York in 1910. Further, by sending the prints to Stieglitz for Camera Work in 1905, 1909 and 1912, Annan ultimately brought Hill and Adamson back into the attention of the public.
In addition a few prints of the 20 plates were made and in a loose folder were sold to friends and admirers. These, still in deference to Elliot’s publication, were never advertised. I find there is one complete set remaining at Sauchiehall St. and if you care to have it the cost will be Five Guineas. I did not collaborate with anyone else in the production. There is no letterpress. The plates are probably still in good condition and further copies might be printed if – and when – the fine Japanese paper used again becomes available.
Surviving examples of the Hill and Adamson photogravure portfolio are rare, to say the least. I have only seen one at the University of Glasgow Library, and maybe two in private collections. We are fortunate to have approximately 40 of Annan’s test prints from this series acquired directly from the Annan estate. While the size of the images are consistent, typically 20 x 15 cm, the sheet sizes vary, with the largest 38 x 28 cm. The papers range from hand-made paper, to velum, to tissue. Annan’s notes are on some of the prints, for example “this portrait was specifically admired by whistler” written on a portrait of John Gibbons R.A. We also are lucky to have, likely the set mentioned in the above quote, a beautiful copy of the final portfolio, also acquired directly from the Annan estate. To round off the group, we have one of the 38 copies of the Elliot book.
Annan, J. C., and William Buchanan. J. Craig Annan: Selected Texts and Bibliography. New York: G.K. Hall, 1994.
Annan, J.C. “David Octavius Hill, R.S.A., 1802–1870,”Camera Work, no. 11 (July 1905): 17.
Buchanan, The Art of the Photographer J. Craig Annan 1864–1946.
Gernsheim, New Photo Vision, London: Fountain Press, 1942.
Schaaf, Sun Pictures: Catalogue Eleven. New York: H.P. Kraus, Jr, 2002. Print.
McCauley, Anne. “Writing Photography’s History Before Newhall.” History of Photography. 21.2 (2015): 87-101.
Correspondence between James Craig Annan and Helmut Gernsheim regarding the Hill and Adamson photogravures are located at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin.