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'

Oh, I'm sorry Judy, somehow I had got the idea that within the last year or so, you had changed over to a system that allowed you easier access to the web. I hope you'll get to see the illustrations, because I think it's an interesting question, but because Steichen printed the same image so many different ways, it's difficult to discuss any of his work without being sure we have the same print, or at least a reproduction of the same print, in front of us.

As for knowing more about the suite than the arbiters I cite, I wonder if maybe you've got me mixed up with someone else. The only "arbiters" I've cited in this thread are the conservation department at the Metropolitan Museum, who have subjected the two prints of this image that have been in their possession to intense scrutiny and scientific analysis, and I am certainly willing to take their word for what they've concluded about the composition of those prints, as well as the many other Steichen prints they have in their collections. I do agree with you that there's a lot of nonsense written about gum printing, and about Steichen's prints, and I also agree that I probably know more about this series than some of the arbiters who have been cited in this thread by others. I'm not inclined to believe what I'm told it says in ArtNews or in some college photo publication, or even in an auction catalog, about Steichen's prints, over what the Metropolitan Museum conservators say about their holdings.

There's no "indication of Steichen's workflow" that I would give more credence to than the discussions in the Met's catalog for Stieglitz's collection, which show by comparisons of electron microscope pictures and other kinds of analysis, that in many cases, Steichen's description of how a print was made turns out to be very different from how the print was actually made. So I'd be inclined to take with a grain of salt any description of a "workflow" that came from the man himself; besides, he kept changing his methods and doing different things all the time, so the idea that he had a "workflow" that he replicated from print to print isn't consistent with how he worked during the time he was doing these prints. Also, in my research of the last day, hunting jpegs of these prints, I've come across fairly persuasive indications that there were more of these prints at one time, for example the moonrise print reproduced in Camera Work in 1906 is apparently not any of the three that are in existence today, and may possibly be the one Steichen described the layers of, in the event that his description did accurately describe any actual print. At any rate, just the very different treatment of these three (or possibly four) prints of the same subject should lay to rest any idea that Steichen had anything resembling what we know as a "workflow" these days. (So much for the value of identical "editions.")

Okay, I hope we can continue this discussion after you've looked at the jpegs. The more I think about the Flatiron, I think you may be right, although as I've said, I can't be sure that the print I pointed to is the print you saw before.

Judy wrote:

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.")