Izote Editions and Photogravure in Mexico

With the popularization of photography as a cultural phenomenon in the mid-nineteenth century, a long tradition of quality fine art prints related to Mexico began. From the Mayan vistas of Désiré Chamay, to the landscapes of Hugo Brehme, to the classic imagery of Paul Strand, or the recent collaborations of Francisco Toledo and Graciela Iturbide with American and European workshops, one finds a continuing interest in the fine art print in Mexico. The Mexican Portfolio of photogravures by Paul Strand is perhaps not only one of the most renown examples in this vein, but is also an unsurpassed printmaking masterpiece in the history of photography. In stark contrast to this printmaking aesthetic are the enormous technological and aesthetic changes in the contemporary world, where images are more ubiquitous and commonplace than ever. If to this we add the digital revolution, we discover the significance of many contemporary images is more for a “sound bite” or an email; that the print quality (if they are even printed at all) has become increasingly homogenous, produced to the digital standards of transnational printers, inks, and papers. In this context Izote Editions: Photogravure and Graphics Workshop proposes the revival and dissemination of the photogravure technique in the contemporary Mexican art world. It is important to point out that we are talking of a revival—the technique of photogravure dates back to the inception of photography, when salted paper prints were still unstable. For this reason, such pioneers as William Henry Fox Talbot looked to the medium of photogravure as a more permanent alternative to the ephemeral prints of the era. Over the course of various decades the process continued to be improved upon until it became the copperplate photogravure known today: an unsurpassed printmaking technique in the history of photography. The great American modernist photographer Alfred Stieglitz used to say that the photogravure reproductions in his magazine Camera Work weren´t really reproductions, but multiple originals. It is precisely a subtle distinction in the quality of this process that distinguishes it from other printing processes and in which the aesthetic uniqueness of photogravure resides. What sets apart an original gravure print from that of a lithograph, or an offset, or a digital reproduction, is the binary characteristic of these latter three processes: that is, either they print or they don´t, they aren´t continuous tone. A photogravure, in comparison, is etched continually in the acid as the image is formed. With a lithograph, or offset, or digital reproduction we always speak of the resolution of the image: continuous tone values are translated into a series of screened dots. In addition to this binary characteristic not found in photogravure, it is worth mentioning that a photogravure print is literally stamped into the paper, with a minute relief to the image itself, and a bold plate mark surrounding the entire image area. The sum of these details is what makes each photogravure print genuinely unique.