U of S | Mailing List Archive | alt-photo-process-l | Re: Pond-moonrise (was: Re: Steichen image in April's 'Vanity Fair'

Re: Pond-moonrise (was: Re: Steichen image in April's 'Vanity Fair'

I haven't had time to view Katharine's illustrations yet, tho I thank her in advance. (I'm an old-fashioned girl -- that is, I have to change systems to see web.)

However, while it's still relevant/topical I have a couple of observations about the "text" that has accompanied whatever articles, catalogs, captions, etc. on such topics by curators, editors, and other experts. Since I have known the rudiments of photography, not to mention some of the "fine points" of processes like gum printing, I have found that VERY few of the "experts" deponing on them in whatever publication know more than the earlier sources of error... (possibly not as much).

That is, they do what the "experts" on gum printing did (& some probably still do): cut and paste from previous "experts," so certain errors get, as it were, cast in concrete. For instance, I keep on my shelf a copy of "Looking at Photographs: A Guide to Technical Terms" by Gordon Baldwin, published 1991 by The J. Paul Getty Museum (no less) in association with British Museum Press (!!).

After a fair outline of the process itself, the section ends with: "Gum bichromate prints have broad tones with little resolution of detail, and they often resemble crayon or charcoal drawings or watercolors." Of course, as we know, the statement that "gum bichromate can't do fine detail" has been standard until about 5 minutes ago -- stated by folks who never did it ... as (among others) Photographers' Formulary when they were themselves marketing a gum bichromate kit!!!

(Some old timers may remember when I remarked on the list that "P F" had made a gross error on the topic, and Peter Fredrick (heh heh) thought I meant him. Which is to say, parsing "expert opinion" about these moonlight prints is probably an exercise in futility... in fact it's even money that Katharine already knows more about the suite at issue than the arbiters she cites.)

One other comment that may be of some interest is about the location of that "moonrise." My parents moved to Mamaroneck when I left for college and I lived there with them on and off and visited often until they retired to Florida, by which time I was becoming/studying/practicing photography. There was some stir while they still lived there about one of the "moonrise" prints (which who could help loving?), so on one visit I decided to locate the point from which the photograph had been taken.

Reader, if it really was Mamaroneck, the site had already been altered, maybe a shopping mall or beach club inserted--- or perhaps it was now (or had always been) seen from private property. That is, driving the roads near water that we could enter, we found no such stand of trees.

But PS: The above-mentioned pronunciamentos about gum printing in the Getty "Guide" are illustrated with a gum print by Demachy from 1904, a very beautiful one as near as can be told from the small, mass-produced image. Looking at it, however, I get the strong impression that Demachy was very much TRYING to make it look like a sketch or drawing, including using the color of sepia or red chalk and schmutching up the background, a reflex among sketch artists of the time (probably this time, too). That is, he's copying the look of "crayon" or "charcoal," leading Baldwin (among others) to conclude --- etc., etc. etc.

It also occurs to the skeptic in me that that Demachy print could have been the only "gum print" the author ever saw that was labelled "gum."

(Again, as our resident joker would say "heh heh.")