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Monday, 14 September 2020


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Mike, you might be interested in the "Curtis" prints made by Jon Cone and his team using photogravure. Reasonable prices, I believe, around $800.

As a person with a degree in Anthropology, Curtis's images have always been a source of information. Since I can not afford a full complement of the originals I found a book from Taschen "The North American Indian" ISBN 978-3-8228-4772-5 as a substitute.
I read the book "Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis" by Timothy Egan. Reading this book and gave me insight on his work, methods and philosophy. In 2005 I took a workshop via NG in Santa Fe and visited a shop that had a very large collection of Curtis photogravure's and some of the original plates. Copies of the images taken from the original plates are simply stunning. I have also been down to the studio in Pioneer Square in Seattle where Imogen Cunningham worked while she was attending the University of Washington.

I've been working with a group responsible for a line of Indigo presses, and I checked my copy of Richard Benson's book (bought on a TOP recommendation in 2008) to see what he had to say. He gave it a paragraph in his last chapter on "what's coming next," and was very enthusiastic. It's an offset process, with as many inks as you like. Commercial work tends to go towards the more fluorescent colors, but there are currently at least three grades of black. The ink drops are drawn to a laser-created spot and the blanket is inked once for each impression -- all the ink goes to the paper. Ink densities go up to 800 dpi, and many sorts of screens are available. The software is complex, proprietary, and probably under constant development. But give an artist /craftsman like Benson access to one of these puppies, and anything would be possible.

Lovely blog about photography. Kirk's already back, btw, lol.

You can also find a 1990’s print of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, Paris, 1932 by clicking the 20th-Century Art link on the Buy Menu. Opening bid is $9000.

[Print almost certainly by Voja Mitrovic, a name many TOP readers will recognize. --MJ]

Unrelated anecdote: ¿Do you know how I discovered Curtis? Reading a Joni Mitchell interview in the late 70s, when she mentioned her house had been robbed and the thiefs had taken everyting, including Edward S. Curtis prints, that don't look particularly valuable...

It wasn't easy then but I managed to find who he was and what he did. I'm still in awe today, almost 50 years later. An obsessive endeavor that ruined him, a respected and rich portrait gallery photographer for the well heeled who did not need to embark on such an undertaking. An artist's obsession is bad for your life, I guess.

If anyone is interested in browsing the complete set of The North American Indian, the bound volumes and supplements can be viewed (and downloaded as PDFs) here: https://tinyurl.com/yykxksy2

Ken's mention of Pulitzer Prize winner Tim Egan's book about Edward Curtis is spot-on.

Egan amply documents how Curtis was determined to collect complete and accurate ethnographic data and photographs about remaining Native Americans, such that he underwent great physical hardships and lost his business, his marriage, and much else in his attempt to do art and to capture that data while it was still relatively unaltered by contact with other cultures.

At the time, it was considered a pioneering effort.

Ken's comment about the current "radioactivity" of Curtis's work is undoubtedly correct. It's also a salutory warning about the fallacy of not taking into account then-contemporary circumstances and attitudes when later loftily and self-righteously passing judgment upon people working a century and more before.

In addition to the source Matt referenced in his comment, another place to see all 20 volumes online is through the Northwestern University website: http://curtis.library.northwestern.edu/curtis/index.html

From NWU's "About the Project" description:

"For this project, the full twenty volumes of approximately 5000 pages of narrative text were scanned. They are presented integrated with the 2226 scans of the photogravure plates, which in the original Curtis work include 1500 images bound in the volumes and the remainder as loose plates in twenty accompanying portfolios.

"Both text and plates were scanned with a digital-back view camera and special book cradles developed by JJT, Inc. to protect the construction of the sewn volumes. All plates are color scans, while the text was scanned in grayscale and down-sampled to bi-tonal format for machine text conversion at University of Michigan."

NWU also notes that the plates can be viewed through The Library of Congress at https://www.loc.gov/collections/edward-s-curtis/about-this-collection/

Whatever one's opinion of Curtis and his project, through whatever lens, its scope and depth are impressive, IMHO.

I seen about 10 years ago, Edward S. Curtis platinum prints on display in Sao Paulo alongside Claudia Andujar silver gelatin prints of the Yanomama, fantastic show.

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