The Process of Illustration
Explore the Exhibition | View All Images | View All Books | U.S. Exploring Expedition | Who Creates an Illustration? | Photographic Formats

Photographic Formats

The introduction of photography in 1839 promised a new era of realism and immediacy. Unfortunately, its chemical production was not compatible with printing, and these images had to be processed separately and mounted before binding into the book. Photomechanical printing techniques were developed that combined photography with traditional printing processes. By the 1880s, this new technology allowed publishers to reproduce faithfully other artwork and use photographic images more extensively. As photography became the dominant mode of illustration, its artistic potential influenced the development of many books. Artists from W. H. F. Talbot to Ansel Adams produced their work in published volumes as well as in gallery prints.

Talbot’s The Pencil of Nature, the first book illustrated with photographs, was produced in parts between 1844 and 1846. It took months to print the hundreds of “sun pictures” that had to be mounted separately. This facsimile edition reproduces the look of the original publication.

About this book:
Pencil of Nature
W.H.F. Talbot
New York: Hans P. Kraus, 1989

About the image on the above: cover image

~ enlarge ~

Photographic reproduction processes introduced realism in illustration, even for imaginative works.

About this book:
Poetic Localities of Cambridge
William James Stillman (1828–1901)
Boston: J.R. Osgood and Company, 1876

About the image on the left: Washington Elm, opp. p. 41

~ enlarge ~

About the image on the left: Front cover

~ enlarge ~

The delicate color effects of Walcott’s original watercolors were reproduced through a special photoengraving technique that printer William E. Rudge called the “Smithsonian Process.”

About this book:
North American Wild Flowers
Mary Vaux Walcott (1860–1940)
Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1925

About the image on the above: Plate 336: Fringed Gentian

~ enlarge ~

This volume was sponsored by a Hawaiian bank to present images of the people as well as their remarkable landscape. The book was designed by Herbert Bayer whose distinctive atlas is also featured in this exhibition. In his “Note on Photography” at the end of the book, Adams discussed his search for balance between the imaginative and the factual for this project, and he provided technical notes on the cameras, lenses, and films used for each illustration

About this book:
The Islands of Hawaii
Text by Edward Joesting (1925-1986)
Photography by Ansel Adams (1902-1984)
[Honolulu:] 1958


~ more views ~

Adams began photographing Yosemite with his first camera as a boy of 14, and his work in the valley was published in many volumes over his long career. The text for this volume includes Adams’s own words from his earlier book, My Camera in Yosemite Valley, plus several pages of technical notes and exposure recommendations.

About this book:
Yosemite Valley
Ansel Adams (1902-1984)
San Francisco: 5 Associates, 1959

~ more views ~

In the summer of 1967, Ansel Adams and his colleagues Beaumont and Nancy Newhall led a workshop, “Images and Words: the Making of a Photographic Book,” for the extension division of the University of California at Santa Cruz. They taught 28 people how to photograph, research, write, and design this publication, a book illustrated with the participants’ own photographs.

About this book:
Twelve Days at Santa Cruz
Monterey, Calif: Herald Printers, 1968


~ more views ~


Next Section: Who Creates an Illustration?

First Section: U.S. Exploring Expedition