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Re: Steichen image in April's 'Vanity Fair'

just stumbled upon this on apug. a used called "reellis67 <http://www.apug.org/forums/members/reellis67/>" posted the text on "pond - moonlight" from the auction catalog.
it mostly has info that has been mentioned here before, but maybe it's an interesting read for someone...and since emails aren't paid for by size:

excerpt from the catalogue notes:

...Edward Steichen’s ‘The Pond—Moonlight’ ranks among the photographer’s greatest achievements in Pictorial photography. An aesthetic and technical tour-de-force, the print of ‘The Pond—Moonlight’ offered here shows Steichen operating at the very peak of his early powers. The painterly qualities of this masterpiece, combined with its photographic realism, its large scale, and its supreme technical virtuosity, place it alongside Steichen’s magnificent study of the Flatiron Building as the photographer’s most ambitious artistic statement; together, they are the culmination of the movement known as Pictorialism. Operatic in their intention and in their effect, the ‘Pond’ and ‘Flatiron’ series are the young Edward Steichen’s bravura confirmation of the validity of the photographic medium. As one critic wrote in The Photogram of 1905, there was an answer to ‘that addled question in the short catechism of the camera: “Is photography an art?” with all its bungling answers in extenso. “Let the answer be: Yes: it is Steichen.”’

Like the series of Steichen’s ‘Flatiron Building’ now in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, only three examples of ‘The Pond—Moonlight’ are known, and as in the ‘Flatiron’ series, each in this trio is different in tone, in atmosphere, and in subtle detail. In addition to the present photograph, there is the print of ‘The Pond’ that Stieglitz gave the Metropolitan in 1933; and the print that Steichen himself gave to The Museum of Modern Art in 1967. Although created from the same negative, the three prints are the results of different photographic processes and are a testament to Steichen’s artistic goals and to his finely honed abilities as a printer. Multiple-process printing, on this large scale, was practiced by no one as it was practiced by Steichen.

The negative for ‘The Pond—Moonlight’ was made in the wetlands around Marmaroneck, New York, on Long Island Sound, near the home of Charles H. Caffin (1854 – 1918), the English-born art critic who had championed Steichen’s work in his volume Photography as a Fine Art (see Lot 5). After the birth of their first daughter in July of 1904, the Steichens sought refuge from the stifling heat of their top-floor Manhattan apartment, gratefully accepting an invitation to spend August with Caffin and his wife Caroline. The August visit stretched into September when Steichen suffered a bout of typhoid and was hospitalized for three weeks. A gelatin silver print of a closely-related image, entitled ‘Autumn,’ now in the J. Paul Getty Museum, is inscribed ‘Autumn, Marmaroneck, N. Y., 1904,’ by Alfred Stieglitz on the reverse, a likely indication that the present photograph was made in September, during the latter part of the Steichens’ stay (The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal, Volume 16, 1988, fig. 93).

The woods at dusk, or in moonlight, was one of Steichen’s favorite subjects, one to which he returned time and again in the years before the first World War, in paintings as well as photographs. Although few of his paintings survive—he destroyed most of them in his notorious bonfire in Voulangis after the war—their titles echo his obsession with the effects of glimmering light in nocturnal settings: ‘The Road to the Lake—Moonlight,’ ‘The Moonlight Promenade—The Sea,’ ‘Balcony, Nocturne, Lake George,’ and ‘Moonlit Landscape,’ among others. A rare surviving painting from that period, now in the Whitney Museum of Art, shows parallel rows of trees in an unidentified glen, the moon rising to the top of the composition, its light reflected in the water in the foreground (reproduced in Dennis Longwell, Steichen: The Master Prints, New York, 1978, p. 17). ‘The romantic and mysterious quality of moonlight, the lyric aspect of nature made the strongest appeal to me’ Steichen wrote in his autobiography. ‘Most of the paintings—watercolors—that I did in my early years were of moonlight subjects. . . the real magician was light itself—mysterious and ever-changing light with its accompanying shadows rich and full of mystery’ (A Life in Photography, unpaginated, Chapter 1).

The influences of not only individual painters but also whole artistic movements on this period of Steichen’s work have been variously discussed in the literature: Dennis Longwell, in his Steichen: The Master Prints, 1914-1985, The Symbolist Period (op. cit.) and Lucy Bowditch, in ‘Steichen and Maeterlinck: The Symbolist Connection’ (History of Photography, Volume 17, Number 4, Winter 1999), for instance, are among many who tie Steichen to the international Symbolist movement. Christian Peterson, in ‘The Photograph Beautiful: 1895 – 1915’ (History of Photography, Volume 16, Number 3, Autumn 1992), states the case for the Arts & Crafts movement, with its attendant influences of Whistler, Arthur Wesley Dow, and Japonisme. And a number of scholars refer to Steichen’s relationship with Scandinavian painters such as Fritz Thaulow, especially Melinda Boyd Parsons, in her article ‘”Moonlight on Darkening Ways”: Concepts of Nature and the Artist in Edward and Lilian Steichen’s Socialism’ (American Art, Volume 11, Number 1, Spring 1997). That a host of authors have found sources for Steichen’s early work in this variety of international styles testifies to Steichen’s talents as a visual magpie, seizing and synthesizing from the cultural plethora around him, not only in his Pictorialist phase, but throughout his career. And, as always with Steichen, the total, as in ‘The Pond—Moonlight,’ was equal to far more than the sum of the parts.

Steichen admitted that, following in the traditions of the day, he initially saw his woodland photographs as preliminary studies for moonlight paintings. ‘I made realistic notes of the actual night colors on the spot,’ he wrote about one Milwaukee twilight photography session, ‘describing the colors I saw in terms of a mixture of pigments to be used in the painting’ (A Life in Photography, unpaginated, Chapter 1). If a Steichen letter from 1903 is any indication, the photographer vividly recorded in his mind the colors of a setting, even if planning a photograph: ‘We had a moon night before last—the like of which I had never seen before—the whole landscape was still bathed in a warm twilight glow—the color was simply marvelous in its dark bright—and into this rose a large disc of brilliant golden orange in a warm purplish sky—Gold. . . ’ (quoted in Longwell, op. cit., p. 94). The ability of oil on canvas to capture the colors of a night setting, as well as its shadowy forms, was for Steichen one of painting’s most valuable aspects. Steichen was from an early date preoccupied with color in photography, and he was one of the first to jump on the bandwagon, in 1907, when the Lumière brothers devised the first practical photographic color process, the autochrome. Indeed, as aficionados of Camera Work know, so committed was Steichen to capturing the subtle colorations of certain moonlit scenes that he resorted to personally hand-tinting every copy of two photogravure plates issued in Camera Work: the ‘Road into the Valley—Moonrise’ in the Steichen Supplement of 1906, and ‘Pastoral—Moonlight’ in Camera Work Number 19, from 1907.

It was the malleable gum-bichromate process, and his consummate mastery of it, that allowed Steichen to realize to the fullest his vision of the moonlit landscape. He was conversant in the basics of gum-bichromate before he left for Paris in 1900--‘I had read an article by Robert Demachy, a famous French photographer, about a process that he used extensively and referred to as a gum-bichromate process,’ he wrote in his autobiography (A Life in Photography, unpaginated, Chapter 1)—and he had experimented with gum in his Milwaukee images. His exposure to the European masters of the process, however, as well as the photographs he saw in the European salons, broadened his outlook and showed him the possibilities of what could be achieved in terms of multiple printing on a large scale.

His best introduction to the expressive uses of gum-bichromate would have been Robert Demachy (1859 – 1936), the French gentleman photographer who was married to a relative of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and was a fluent English speaker and writer. Demachy practiced the gum-bichromate process almost exclusively from the 1890s until 1906, when he took up the Rawlins oil process. His writings on gum-bichromate, in both French and English, were authoritative, and he befriended Steichen during the young photographer’s first sojourn in Paris. The photographer who brought both scale and multiple colors to the process was Heinrich Kühn (1866 – 1944) (see Lots 38 – 40), the leader of the Viennese secession and like Demachy, a contributor to Camera Work. Steichen met him in Munich in 1901, and could not have failed to have been impressed with the vivid colors achieved by Kühn through multiple, layered printings from different negatives. The works of these and other European practitioners of gum-bichromate, alone or combined with other processes, were seen and studied by Steichen at the salons on the Continent and in London.

In France, Steichen began working in gum-bichromate and combination processes with a vengeance. Always ready to take up a challenge, he rose to the process’s technical demands and used its painterly qualities to prove that certain types of photographs could be worked over and multiply-printed until they were indistinguishable from etchings or other traditional fine prints. His duping of the jury of the 1902 Champs de Mars salon is told over and over again in the Steichen narrative: how he submitted, and had accepted, ten gum-bichromate prints to the graphic arts category, only to have them rejected once the committee discovered they were photographs. This early grand-standing aside, he worked very seriously, and with great power, in the combination processes, producing a series of Pictorial masterworks, of which the present image is one.

The print offered here is a multiple gum-bichromate print over platinum, and its depth and color come from skillful layers of manipulated, sequential printing, in different tones, from one negative. The initial ‘base’ of the image would have been a platinum print, over which was printed one or more ‘layers’ of gum-bichromate. Each of these subsequent layers could not only be a different tone, but could also be altered on its surface with a brush or sponge during development, allowing for manual control of the shapes and shadows. In large format especially, the technique was elaborate, tricky, and laborious. Although Steichen rarely discussed his printing in detail, there is an extant, undated letter he sent to Stieglitz regarding his large, multiple-process prints, which reads in part:

‘. . . [the prints] represent two months hard work to say nothing of the expense which my bills testify to. Big plates mean more failures and cost like h__l. I wish you could see the new things—They will be hard to hang—One in particular . . . ‘The Big Cloud’ . . . it’s a whopper—and will compel attention—although I’m afraid they may refuse to hang it— d__m if they do. Another one Moonrise in three printings: first printing, grey black plat[itnum]—2nd, plain blue print (secret), 3rd, greenish gum. It is so very dark I must take the glass off because it acts too much like a mirror. I hope they will handle it carefully . . .’ (quoted in Longwell, op. cit., p. 17).

As these large multiple-process prints were each created by a process not dissimilar from the creation of fine cuisine, with special touches known only to the chef, it is difficult to single out the ingredients of Steichen’s prints: thus it is hard to know if the description above applies perfectly to one of the three extant ‘Pond’ images, or to another print of the image now lost. The print offered here has been analyzed recently by the conservation department at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and it is described by them as a multiple gum-bichromate print over platinum. The print given to the Metropolitan by Stieglitz, also analyzed recently by their conservation department, appears to be a platinum print with applied Prussian blue and calcium-based white pigment, likely hand-applied. The third print, in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art, is catalogued as a platinum and ferro-prussiate print. Each is different, and each is striking in its own way. As the photographer Joan Harrison, herself an accomplished printer in alternative photographic processes, has succinctly stated, ‘Gum-Bichromate is the most individual of all photographic printing processes both in method and result. The hand of the artist is evident in every print and the medium is unique in that its malleability allows for the development of a personal colour palette suited to nearly any taste or sensibility’ (‘Colour in the Gum-Bichromate Process,’ in History of Photography, Volume 17, Number 4, Winter 1993, p. 375).

Steichen’s large-format multiple process prints presented him with what must have been the most complex and challenging darkroom experiences he had known in his career to that point, and probably thereafter. But these multiple-process prints were difficult, costly, and time-consuming, and these limitations precluded their production in any quantity. That, coupled with the deterioration or loss of most of the photographer’s early Pictorial negatives during the first World War, make original Steichen multiple-process prints among the rarest works in his entire oeuvre.

The print of ‘The Pond—Moonlight’ offered here was purchased from Alfred Stieglitz, presumably acting as Steichen’s agent, by John Aspinwall, in 1906. Aspinwall, a friend and supporter of Stieglitz and an amateur photographer himself, served as president of the Camera Club of New York in the early years of the last century. The date on Aspinwall’s bill of sale, 3 April 1906, may indicate that the print he purchased was the actual print of the image included in a major retrospective of Steichen’s work at the Photo-Secession Galleries from the 9th to the 24th of March 1906. The original bill of sale to Aspinwall, in Stieglitz’s hand, which at one time accompanied the print, is now lost. The print was also at one time accompanied by a copy of a letter from Steichen to Mrs. John Aspinwall Wagner, a descendant of the original owner, stating that the relatively high price of $75.00, paid in 1906, indicated that Steichen and Stieglitz thought the print was an especially fine one. ...

Diana Bloomfield schrieb:
I just had a chance to see this image, and I can believe he might have gotten this with just those 2 layers-- pt/pd and cyanotype. Of course, it would be nice to see it in real life. As mentioned, we don't really know how much this reproduction has been "punched up" by the magazine editors.

I've done a lot of pt/pd and cyanotype, though with pinhole negatives only, and while I've never achieved this deep orange-y flesh tone, I have been consistently surprised by how the flesh tones in portraits do seem to subtly change color and stand out more, even when the cyan layer, at first glance, doesn't look like it's had any effect at all on the flesh tones. Of course, the cyanotype, done after the pt/pd layer, can be controlled somewhat via exposure and emulsion, and the cyan color will obviously tend to adhere more to the thinner parts of the negative (more noticeable, of course, with a pinhole negative than a regular lens-based negative).

But I think it was Mark who mentioned Sam Wang's cyanotype over pt/pd yesterday, and I remember seeing one of Sam's portraits done like that, and thinking that he must have also used gum-- it was incredible-- and really seemed like it had so many more colors in it than just the pt/pd and cyanotype-- very rich-- but I remember asking him about it, and he'd used only the pt/pd and cyanotype.

Also, I can imagine that different papers available to Steichen (from what we have now) might also make a difference. And what about the chemicals themselves. Are they exactly the same as what we now use?

But who knows. Maybe he did add gum, or some hand-tinting. I'd love to see the real thing. I'm guessing the real image isn't quite as rich and dark as this reproduction, but that's just a guess.

On Mar 10, 2009, at 10:16 AM, phritz phantom wrote:

all of that sounds really interesting, thanks for the details, christina.
is there some more info to be found on that platinum/palladium and ferroprussiate printing technique?
i really have a hard time understanding how steichen got these kind of colours (even when the colours are a little off in the online pic) with just two layers. i'd expect the pd/pt to be a brownish colour and the cyano blue.
they only way i can imagine getting these kind of colours is through multple layers, each one individually toned. maybe a blackish-brown one, a dark blue one and a third cyano somehow toned to an orange.

and did he take this pic before the invention of colour process films? and with a single neg or with colour separations?


Christina Z. Anderson schrieb:
aaaaHA. Infinitely clearer to me as well and I thank you for your very clear and pointed explanation!

When I saw the image online I couldn't figure out the connection between the pond image as well and NOW I understand.

As an aside, having done lots of pd/cyano, I am very surprised that he was able to derive that flesh color from that process. I would not be at all surprised that there is a gum layer lurking there as well. Unless pt/pd oranges over time and/or the paper has oranged and/or the scan is WAY more color saturated as Tom Hawkins I think said. But read further and I'll tell you why I wonder if this is not the case.

Back to the Pond image. Of three articles I have on it the ArtNews says as I have said it is a hand-colored BW image. When I initially read this I did not believe it was correct. BUT, to a novice, gum over platinum could certainly be considered a "hand colored bw image" even if incorrect. This is why I say auctioneers/those in the arts need to get their processes straight, but it really stems from people being ignorant of alt, which none of us on this list are.

All sources say there are only 3 of this image. All sources agree one was sold off, one remains in the Met, and one is at the Moma. I don't know the buyer of the $2.9 million one, though.

The Photo On Campus article is really a neat one because they have gone to recreate where the image was taken. This magazine referred to it as "a richly layered gum bichromate print." Again, a layer of pd lurking in there is not too far off the description but enough for us altees. Believe me, I am not justifying this error, just acknowledging how it can happen, especially knowing how few photographers even understand what a gum print even is.

But my other source is the Steichen book (Lowell 1978) wherein Steichen is writing to Stieglitz and says ,"...Another one [-] Moonrise [Mamaroneck, New York, 1904, pl. 35] in three printings: first printing, grey black plat[inum]--2nd, plain blue print [cyanotype] (secret)[-] 3rd, greenish gum. It is so very dark I must take the glass off because it acts too much like a mirror. I hope they will handle it carefully--of course the varnish will protect it some--"
Source Leaf 54, Alfred Stieglitz Archive, Collection of American Literature, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, Conn.

I have no idea what "secret" refers to.

This description refers to the "cyano/plati one at the Moma. It is pictured in color in the book. In the back of the book it describes the plate as a platinum and ferroprussiate print! So either they, too, left out the gum layer, or the three process print Steichen refers to is NOT the one in the Moma and refers to one of the two others. BUT both of the images I have of the print that sold for $2.9 million are the same print, looking very much like a layer of yellow and blue gum over a pt print. Much more glowing than the cyano/pd in the Moma.

End of story, not really important, just thought it'd be of interest to someone out there, and having NOTHING to do with our cigar boy. Can't wait for my Vanity Fair to come in the mail now....


Christina Z. Anderson
----- Original Message ----- From: "Katharine Thayer" <kthayer@pacifier.com>
To: <alt-photo-process-l@usask.ca>
Sent: Monday, March 09, 2009 9:29 PM
Subject: Re: Steichen image in April's 'Vanity Fair'

Actually, the analysis, on the two that were owned by the
Metropolitan, one of which was auctioned for $2.9 million, was done
by the conservation department at the Metropolitan (who do have
access to electron microscopes and all the best techniques for
determining what a print is made of). By whose assertion is it said
that the print that sold for $2.9 million was gum over platinum? By
the Metropolitan's assertion, by the experts who spoke on the record
about the sale at the time, and by the assertion of the auction
catalog itself. I assume that the analysis of the cyanotype over
platinum owned by MOMA was done by MOMA. ArtNews is just simply
wrong, as was the person who claimed on this thread that the print
that sold for $2.9 million was a straight gum print; it's just not so.

But that wasn't the question I was trying to answer today; I've known
those facts for several years already. What I was trying to
determine today was what was the image that was reproduced on page 61
of Vanity Fair? Your comment made it seem like you were saying that
the image in Vanity Fair was the same image as the one that sold for
$2.9 million, but maybe one of the other prints? That's what didn't
make sense to me (besides the assertion that the one that sold for
$2.9 million was a gum print, which simply isn't accurate). Why
would one of those prints be in a show at a gallery? I can imagine
one of them showing up at Christy's or Sotheby's, or in a museum
retrospective, but why at Greenberg; it didn't make sense to me.

And now Tom has solved the mystery; it wasn't that image at all but
the one I found online, and whatever you were talking about didn't
have any particular connection to the thread. Okay, that makes sense
to me, and that's all I was looking for, was some sense.

On Mar 9, 2009, at 6:07 PM, Katharine Thayer wrote:

Well, okay, since no one would answer my question I spent the afternoon out in a roaring sleetstorm looking for a copy of the April Vanity Fair to answer the question for myself. I went to the library and all the stores that might carry general interest magazines in my nearest big town, and no one has the April issue available yet.

I was curious which print of Steichen's was reproduced, in an effort to make sense of the statement made earlier in this thread: ""There was a good article on this image in Photo On Campus about the one that sold for 3 million. That was a gum print, but it says there were three prints of this negative made so I wonder how the third one was made."

For the record, the print that sold for $2.9 million was not a gum print, but gum over platinum. There were two other prints made from the same negative; one of them, which Stieglitz gave to the Metropolitan in 1933 and is still in the Met's collection AFAIK, has been analyzed and is believed to be hand-applied colori over platinum. The third, which is owned by MOMA, is platinum and cyanotype.

I found an image online from the current Steichen exhibition at Greenberg that we can actually all look at so we can all be on the same page; I don't know if this is the one that was reproduced in Vanity Fair, and I also don't know why it seems to be on a gay website. The point is that it's an example of cyanotype over palladium, which Tom was asking about, and I think it's absolutely stunning. I have a number of Steichen monographs but I've never seen this particular image before. I wouldn't have believed it possible to get such warm flesh tones simply from a combination of palladium and cyanotype, but I'm told by someone who used to print with this combination that this is typical of the combination of processes. This is the first time ever that I have wished to print in any process than gum; I really love the way this looks.

http://boyculture.typepad.com/boy_culture/2009/03/through-the- years.html


On Mar 9, 2009, at 11:45 AM, Katharine Thayer wrote:

I don't have Vanity Fair in front of me and it would take some traveling to find one; can someone enlighten me as to which print is reproduced in the magazine? Thanks,

On Mar 7, 2009, at 8:21 PM, Tom Hawkins wrote:

Hi Folks,

I know it’s only a magazine reproduction, but...

In the April issue of Vanity Fair (p.61) there’s an image from a Steichen exhibit currently at Greenberg in NYC.

It’s described as a “palladium ferroprusiate print.”

Am I correct in assuming that’s a gum over palladium?