It is hard to imagine a time before photographs saturated daily experience; they appear in our Instagram feeds and on our shower curtains; they inundate our mailboxes and our inboxes. Even before digital technology, photographs were everywhere. Their universality was made possible by printing techniques imagined by photography’s earliest inventors and developed over decades.
Photomechanical printing—reproducing a photograph by way of a printing press and ink—emerged in the late nineteenth century to meet two demands that chemical-based darkroom printing could not: the need to produce prints cheaply and quickly on a massive scale and the need to simultaneously print text and image. Once they became viable, photomechanical printing techniques quickly revolutionized the way images were consumed. In the world of fine art photography, these techniques made it possible to publish inexpensive books and portfolios of photographs. Within visual culture at large, their adoption meant the immediate and near-total domination of photographic illustration in journalism and advertising.
Photographic printmaking was not only transformational in their expansion of photography’s reach: they yielded a degree of control over the final print that was difficult to replicate in the darkroom. As a rule, the processes for printing photographs in ink allowed for unprecedented control over color and contrast, whether naturalistic or expressive. Drawn elements could be added. Individual components of photographs could be isolated, cropped, duplicated, combined, and overlaid to create composite images. Integrating text and image became simple. The result was an aesthetic that seamlessly integrated photography and the graphic arts, one that artists working in photography embraced for its expressive potential.
The mid-twentieth century saw a paradigm shift in many artists’ use of photomechanical printing. Cultural critics like Robert Heinecken, Larry Sultan, Mike Mandel, and Andy Warhol appropriated low culture imagery and commercial printing processes to comment on consumerism and the superabundance of visuals in contemporary society. Insisting that the conditions of a work’s creation were essential to its message, these artists often amplified the visual syntax of printmaking. Enlarged half-tone dots, manipulated and deliberately misregistered colors, and superimposed text and image became shorthand for mass communication.
Taking its title from a line in Photography’s Expanded Field, George Baker’s 2005 essay investigating the overlap between photography and related media, The Logic of the Copy will examine the ways in which photography’s marriage to printmaking contributed to the ubiquity of photographic images and gave rise to a lexicon that was adopted—and adapted—by successive generations of artists. In addition to numerous examples of pioneering photobooks, portfolios, and photographically illustrated print periodicals, the exhibition will include fine art prints by makers including William Henry Jackson, Edward S. Curtis, Alfred Stieglitz, Aaron Siskind, Lee Friedlander, Mark Klett, Robert Heinecken, Betty Hahn, Todd Walker, Tom Barrow, Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel, Andy Warhol, Sherrie Levine, and James Casebere.
This exhibition is organized by Phoenix Art Museum, INFOCUS, the Photography Support Group of Phoenix Art Museum, and the Center for Creative Photography.
Admission is free for Phoenix Art Museum Members and is included with general admission. Not a member yet? Join here!
This exhibition is offered to the general public for free during voluntary donation, free-access hours from 3-9 pm each Wednesday, from 6-10 pm every First Friday of each month and all day during the second Saturday and Sunday of each month.
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Exhibition Page: William Henry Jackson, Utah. The Giant’s Club and Kettle, Green River (detail), 1898. Photo-chromolithograph. Collection Center for Creative Photography.
Left: Joan Lyons, untitled, 1980, from the series Presences. Offset lithograph. Collection Center for Creative Photography ©Joan Lyons
Middle: Andy Warhol, Sunset, 1972. Screenprint. Collection Center for Creative Photography © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.
Right: Betty Hahn, Untitled (The Lone Ranger), 1976. Screenprint. Collection Center for Creative Photography © Betty Hahn