|Curtis' Technique ~ Photogravures: Prints, Not Photographs|
Many people are surprised to learn that Curtis' "photographs" in The North American Indian are not in fact photographs but rather prints. The painstaking photogravure method is one of the measures that Edward S. Curtis took to ensure that his portraits would have their detailed lifelike quality.
In photogravure, a platemaker first etches the photographic image from a glass positive onto a copper plate for printing. After the etching, artisans face the plate with steel. Then they treat it with sepia-toned ink. Finally, the workers place the plate in a high-pressure printing press and print the image onto paper that has been specially prepared to receive the ink.
The process is made even more time-consuming by the fact that the plate must be thoroughly cleaned after each print is made.
A popular Seattle denizen who inspired Curtis in his life's work, Princess Angeline (below) was the daughter of Chief Seatlh. The photographer's command of lighting techniques and insistence on the best photogravure methods is evident even in this early portrait."I paid the princess a dollar for each picture I made. This seemed to please her greatly, and she indicated that she preferred to spend her time having pictures taken to digging clams."
~ Edward S. Curtis in his unfinished memoirs, early 1950s
|~ "The Man Who Never Took Time to Play"|