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On Either Side of the ‘Gatekeeper’

Technical Experimentation with Photography at L’Illustration (1880–1900)
Thierry Gervais
Traduction de Hillary Goidell
Cet article est une traduction de :
De part et d'autre de la « garde-barrière »

Résumé

A gap exists between the publication of images made using the halftone process in French newspapers circa 1880 and the widespread use of photography in the press at the end of the nineteenth century. Histories of press photography generally offer no explanation for this gap of nearly two decades. In order to shed light on this period, a few key images are presented as pivotal to the development of the illustrated press. Among them are images by Nadar for Eugène Chevreul’s centennial jubilee, the view of ‘Shantytown,’ and the depiction of the ‘gatekeeper’ published in L’Illustration in 1891. These images represent milestones which usher in the era of the modern illustrated press. Yet through analysis of the original gatekeeper montage and other photographs of the time conserved in the archives of L’Illustration, we see that the images do not reflect a sharp division: rather they reveal the convergence of techniques and hybridization of various types of visual information, indicating a slow assimilation of photo­graphy into the illustrative process.

Texte intégral

The author would like to thank François Brunet, André Gunthert, Olivier Lugon, and Gaëlle Morel.

1In December 2003, Howard Dean, a candidate for the Democratic Party nomination in the American presidential elections, wrote an article for the magazine Vanity Fair on the growth of social inequality under the Republican administration of George W. Bush. By calling his article ‘How the Poor Live Now’ and pairing it with a series of photographs by Larry Fink that were taken for the occasion, Dean and Graydon Carter, the magazine’s editor in chief, implicitly placed themselves in the tradition of Jacob A. Riis’s famous work, How the Other Half Lives (1890), which is regarded as the first American example of the use of photography for the purpose of social reform. The project, however, was not successful in reviving this documentary model due to its insufficient political cohesion. The editorial and electoral pressures under which the article was operating led to a conventional and almost disembodied representation of poverty. A comparison between the photographs accepted by Vanity Fair and certain other, more complex images that were ultimately rejected by the magazine makes it possible to investigate the limits in contexts like this faced by the genre of social documentary.

  • 1 The first images I have identified as having been reproduced using the halftone process in L’Illust (...)
  • 2 Thierry Gervais, ’L’invention du magazine. La photographie mise en page dans la Vie au grand air,’ (...)
  • 3 Michel Frizot, ‘The Interview with Chevreul,’ in A New History of Photography, ed. Michel Frizot (C (...)
  • 4 ‘But when the feeling of presence and authenticity was needed, the “mere reproduction of a photogra (...)

2The reproduction of photographs using the halftone process marks an important moment in the evolution of a new form of visual information in the illustrated press. Yet in French newspapers, the first publications of such images in the early 1880s1 were not immediately followed by wide­spread use of photography in the press: that came only at the close of the nineteenth century.2 This gap of nearly two decades is generally left without explanation in histories of press photography. Instead, a few key images are usually presented as pivotal to the development of the illustrated press. The most renowned include those made by Nadar for Eugène Chevreul’s centennial jubilee and published in Le Journal illustré in 1886. They represent the ‘first attempt at total truth and transparency’3 for some authors, while for others they answer a need for presence and authenticity.4

  • 5 ‘A Scene in Shantytown, New York,’ Daily Graphic, March 4, 1880. This image is reproduced in Robert (...)
  • 6 ‘La garde-barrière,’ L’Illustration 2526 (July 25, 1891): 61.
  • 7 Anne-Claude Ambroise-Rendu, ‘Du dessin de presse à la photographie (1878–1914): histoire d’une muta (...)

3Other images have also been used to signal the transition from the era of woodcut printing to the emergence of the halftone process. Examples include the image of ‘Shantytown’5 and the depiction of a ‘gatekeeper’6 – a person who indicates the approach of a train. The latter, published in the weekly magazine L’Illustration in 1891, has been said to constitute the ‘birth of the modern illustrated press.’7

4The image of the gatekeeper is only one of numerous photographs made and used during this period to be found in the archives of L’Illustration. When examined, they attest less to a media revolution than to a slow assimilation of photography into the illustrative process. When we reconsider those images deemed pivotal to the histories of photography, and those other less canonical images, and study all of them within the larger context of image reproduction in the press, we find that they reveal otherwise hidden uses of the medium. What is reflected in the use of photography in L’Illustration at this time is a resistance to and hesitation regarding the medium. The gatekeeper image may represent the transition from news illustration to news photography, but it also reveals a hybridization of different types of information and, with it, the convergence of a variety of techniques.

Technical Convergence

  • 8 L’Illustration 2380 (October 6, 1888): 241; L’Illustration 2459 (April 12, 1890): 305.
  • 9 L’Illustration 2525 (July 18, 1891): 51.
  • 10 L’Illustration 2463 (May 10, 1890): 412.

5A close look at the details of many illustrations published in Lucien Marc’s (1886–1903) weekly during the 1880s and 1890s raises doubts about the pictures' origins and the nature of the processes used to reproduce them. Examples include en-graved portraits in which volumes are rendered using a screen, and landscapes in which a set of even orthogonal lines is used to diminish the whiteness of the sky.8 There are drawings marked ‘Michelet,’ the name of a company specializing in photoengraving,9 and the expression ‘photographie instantanée’ [snapshot]10 appears as a caption for images signed by Thiriat, an established wood engraver. Such images highlight the convergence both of the different techniques used to make them and the conflation of their separate visual syntaxes. The illustrations made from coated wood and embossed paper techniques (im-ages ‘engraved’ with a fine screen) reflect ongoing experimentation with photomechanical reproduction which was, in turn, tied to the standard practices of contemporary illustration.

  • 11 L’Illustration 2253 (May 1, 1886): 311.

6The issue of L’Illustration that covered the Salon of 1886 included a half-page reproduction of a painting by Bonnefoy entitled ‘La Fin d’une belle journée’ [The End of a Beautiful Day].11 The caption gave no indication of the techniques used for its reproduction, which included a narrow, regular screen pattern in certain areas along with pure whites and deep blacks. While the screen pattern suggested halftone reproduction, the strong contrast hinted at woodcut. The original, conserved in the weekly’s archives, was an ink drawing on white embossed paper. In lighter areas such as the sky, the artist crushed the embossing to eliminate the screen pattern; in darker areas, like trees, he used dense black ink. Outside of these high-contrast areas, the embossed screen pattern has transformed medium grays into dots, enabling reproduction by relief printing. The reproduction of the image in L’Illustration shows strong contrast and a range of gray tones, yet no engraver was involved in its creation. In this example, drawing, photography, and printing (gravure) have been merged to produce an illustration whose syntactical limits are blurred, rendering it impossible to make any clear-cut distinction about the origin of the image or its mode of reproduction. Photographic forms have converged toward hand drawn forms, and vice versa.

  • 12 L’Illustration 2156 (June 21, 1884): 421.
  • 13 At first, Gillot used thick white paper into which he embossed regular parallel lines using a small (...)

7It was Charles Gillot who invented the embossed paper technique, the process used to reproduce Bonnefoy’s painting. Gillot's signature appears at the bottom of a similar-looking illustration, another reproduction of a painting that appeared in the June 21, 1884, issue of L’Illustration.12 Following his father, who had made it possible to reproduce a line drawing without the efforts of an engraver, the younger Gillot obtained an 1877 patent to apply this process to the halftone image reproduction. As his patent makes clear, the inventor’s goal was to use chemical processes to obtain results that would ‘imitate woodcut.’13

8By this method, photography became a means of reproduction without the manual labor needed for engraving. In general, however, the illustrations didn’t appear to be photographs but looked more like wood engravings, images that respected the draughtsman's hand. While the supposedly automatic nature of photography and the hand of the engraver are often presented as antagonists in the production of press illustrations, Gillot’s technique blended drawing and photography in the construction of a single image. Henceforth, the screen patterns crucial to halftone printing merged with the illustrator’s pen to create relief printing. Images made by this method were typical of the syntactical ambiguity of the illustrations published in the late 1880s.

  • 14 Robert Price, ‘Procédé pour obtenir des images photographiques sur une surface de bois destinée à ê (...)

9Photographic details, however, could also be employed in the engraving process. Coated wood techniques offered another example of technical convergence in the composition of press illustrations. It is more difficult to identify images made by coated wood techniques than illustrations made by Gillot’s method as the formal signs are less visible. The principle is straightforward: a block of boxwood is coated with a photosensitive substance and the image that is to serve as a model for the engraver is reproduced directly on the wood. The American Robert Price obtained a French patent on June 4, 1857: ‘Process for obtaining photographic images on a wooden surface intended for engraving.’ In the patent, he described his method for recording a photographic image on a wood block without interfering with the engraver’s work.14

  • 15 Alphonse Davanne, ‘Exposition universelle internationale de 1878. Rapports du jury international, g (...)
  • 16 E. Frewing, ‘Photographie sur bois,’ BSFP, no. 9 (1886): 250.
  • 17 L’Illustration 2526 (July 25, 1891): 61.

10Despite Price’s invention, the difficulties engendered by this kind of photographic process (using collodion) had not yet been resolved in time for the 1878 World’s Fair. In his report, ‘Les Épreuves et les appareils de photographie,’ Alphonse Davanne noted: ‘This process, so simple in theory, proves difficult when put into practice. The slightest film of collodion or gelatin that comes between the wood and the tools disrupts the engraver’s work and leaves scratches.’15 A satisfactory coating seems to have been found in 1886 by Frewing; in the Bulletin de la Société Française de Photographie he published details of an albumen-based preparation ‘highly suitable for wood engraving as it offers no tangible film and the image is sharp and pure.’16 This technique remained relatively un-known and is difficult to identify with the naked eye. The image of the gatekeeper, published on July 25, 1891, on the front page of L’Illustration, was the result of a new encounter between photography and woodcut.17

  • 18 ‘L’agitation ouvrière,’ L’Illustration 2521 (June 20, 1891): 538.
  • 19 Ibid.
  • 20 ‘Les syndicats ouvriers,’ L’Illustration 2522 (June 27, 1891): 549.
  • 21 ‘Les employés du chemin de fer. L’aiguilleur,’ L’Illustration 2523 (July 4, 1891): 12.

11The June 20, 1891, issue of L’Illustration, included an article devoted to ‘L’agitation ouvrière’ [the working-class uprising] and the strikes shaking France.18 The author explained: ‘The success of the omnibus strikes could not help but bring consequences. The workers and railroad employees were the first to take advantage of the wave of sympathy aroused in the Parisian population by the public carriage coachmen and drivers.’19 In the wake of these events, subsequent issues of L’Illustration included engravings of workers’ unions and plates demonstrating the range of different trades the railroad brought together.20 A full-page portrait of a ‘switchman’ handling controls21 appears on July 4, and the July 25 cover depicts a gatekeeper equipped with the tools of her trade and awaiting a passing train. The two illustrations did not differ in any significant way and both were made in Henri Thiriat’s engraving studio. Yet they would not meet with the same critical destiny.

The Critical Destiny of the Gatekeeper’s Image

  • 22 Ernest Clair-Guyot, ‘Un demi-siècle à L’Illustration,’ L’Illustration 4713 (July 1, 1933) (unnumber (...)

12The celebrity of the picture of the gatekeeper stems from writings by its author that L’Illustration published nearly forty years after the image first appear-ed. It was for a special issue printed in 1933 when the weekly moved to Bobigny, just outside Paris, that Louis Baschet solicited Ernest Clair-Guyot to write his recollections of a half-century spent as an illustrator at L’Illustration.22 Clair-Guyot had started working at the rue Saint-Georges in 1883, and witnessed the major transformation of the illustrative process as photography was incorporated. His article nostalgically recounts the role of woodcut and explains the reasons for the creation, under the supervision of Lucien Marc, of the weekly’s first in-house photographic laboratory – a significant time-saver in the transmission of images to the engravers. Clair-Guyot also devoted several paragraphs to the image of the gatekeeper. Though the article was written in 1933, at a time when the specificities of photography had been definitively established in the press, the illustrator’s observations clearly show how media convergence was at work in creating this image:

  • 23 Ibid.

‘The negatives obtained using ever-more advanced cameras already provided satisfactory results. At this point it occurred to me that I could modify the way we make our drawings. In-stead of copying the photograph onto the wood block, knowing it was to serve only as a document, I used the print itself and retouched it directly. Thus my illustration benefited from all the precision of the original and, upon completing my work, we photographed it onto the photosensitized block for the engraver. The end result: a significant gain in time since rather than copying the whole photograph onto the wood block, we only improved and finished it. I attempted this for the first time with an image depicting a gatekeeper.’23

13The image printed next to this passage confirms that the author is indeed referring to the gatekeeper reproduced in the July 1891 L’Illustration. Clair-Guyot’s commentary thus substanti­ated the fact that the illustration engrav-ed by Thiriat was first photographically recorded on the wood block. The use of photography limited the interpretation of the artisan, who had hitherto followed the illustrator’s lines and shapes inscribed on the surface of the boxwood block. Coated wood techniques, like Gillot’s embossed paper method, thus diminished the role of the engraver. Yet as Clair-Guyot describes, photography played a part not only in the reproduction of the illustration, but with its descriptive precision in its creation.

14The original gatekeeper image, conserved in the archives of L’Illustration, is a montage that collages photographic elements in a pictorial framework. The figure of the gatekeeper and the image of the train are each photographs that have been precisely cut out and glued onto cardboard. The landscape and the build­ing are wash drawings by Clair-Guyot and serve to unify the photographic elements. A pencil mark delineates the final frame of the image to be reproduced, and white gouache was used by the illustrator to give a sense of volume in the dark areas of the photograph of the gatekeeper. Clair-Guyot’s illustration skillfully combined pictorial work and photographic prints. The photographs added precision and detail to the key parts of the image – the gatekeeper and train – and the artist provided a picturesque setting to scale with the printed page. In other words, to quote Clair-Guyot, photography brought in its wake the ‘precision of the negative’ as well as a ‘great saving in time’.

15Once the image had been engraved by Thiriat and appeared in L’Illustration, the distinct differences between drawing and photography were merg-ed into a homogenous image. It was no longer clear whether the details derived from the talent of the engraver or the influence of photography. The treatment of the face with its fine, precise shadows, tended to suggest photography, whereas the small marks scattered between the gatekeeper and the train clearly emerged as visual solutions for spatial reference and to indicate perspective. In addition, a detailed examination reveals formal inconsistencies arising from the association of the two distinct modes of production: the hat casts a shadow on the gatekeeper’s face that indicates that the sun is high in the sky, while the illustrator drew the shadow of the gatekeeper’s figure as a long shape on the ground, suggesting sunrise or sunset.

16The illustration of the gatekeeper by Ernest Clair-Guyot merged photographic reproduction and woodcut technique and fused photographic and hand-drawn form to become the paradigm of the hybrid images published in L’Illustration in the early 1890s. But is it really formally distinct enough from other images published in L’Illustration to be singled out as marking a major shift in the history of press photography? Or is this, rather, an example of an image rescued from anonymity by its author and offered to the history of photography as a key milestone in the evolution of press photography?

  • 24 Raymond Lécuyer, ‘Photographie et gravure sur bois,’ in Histoire de la photographie (Paris: Baschet (...)
  • 25 Ibid., 259.

17Raymond Lécuyer reconsidered the image of the gatekeeper in his 1945 Histoire de la photographie, published by Baschet et Cie.24 Lécuyer’s work was an indisputable reference in the French historiography of photography and included the gatekeeper among the photomechanical reproduction techniques analyzed. Coated wood techniques, sandwiched between discussion of the Woodburytype and of Gillot’s process, were represented by Clair-Guyot’s image; at this point it was considered as ‘the first photograph to be thus engraved,’25 giving Lecuyer an excuse to commend both French inventors as well as his publisher’s family. In this technically oriented history of photography, coated wood techniques figured as a crucial component in the technical development of a totally photographic process. The association of photography and wood engraving was explained as a time-saving measure for publishers, without any discussion of the illustrative forms it offered to readers.

  • 26 Jean-Noël Marchandiau, ‘L’Illustration’ 1843–1944. Vie et mort d’un journal (Toulouse: Bibliothèque (...)
  • 27 Ibid.

18In 1987, Jean-Noël Marchandiau published a monograph on L’Illustration in which the image of the gatekeeper was again reproduced.26 Although he had access to the weekly’s archives and delved into the thousands of illustrations conserved there, many of which had the same characteristics as the gatekeeper, he still used Clair-Guyot’s image to explain the advent of photography in the weekly’s journalistic practices. Here again, the visual hallmarks of coated wood were not considered. The incorporation of photography in the illustrative process was regarded as ‘the step forward that exceeded the image reproduction field’s wildest expectations,’ though visually the image offered no evidence of major changes.27

  • 28 Ambroise-Rendu, ‘Du dessin de presse à la photographie’ (note 7), 6–28.

19A study by Anne-Claude Ambroise-Rendu, in the 1992 Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine, traced the role of photography in the illustrated press at the end of the nineteenth century. The analysis examined a range of issues of L’Illustration and texts including those of Clair-Guyot Marchandiau and Lécuyer.28 From the very first paragraph, Ambroise-Rendu singled out the image of the gatekeeper as essential: ‘On July 25, 1891, L’Illustration published the first engraving obtained from a coated wooden block onto which a snapshot had been directly applied using a collodion bromide emulsion, without the help of an illustrator. The picture – a gatekeeper – was integrated into a hand-drawn background. It is the first time that a photograph was reproduced by a periodical.’

20Yet the original of this ‘snapshot’ comprised two photographic fragments: the artist’s hand still played a significant role in the illustration before the image was transferred onto the wood block. Ambroise-Rendu presented Clair-Guyot’s image as key, a watershed in the history of press photography, though its coated wood techniques resulted in the network of lines that revealed its origin as an engraving. Described as a technical break marking the adoption of photographic reproduction by L’Illustration, it was, in fact, only a variation on wood engraving techniques that were destined to die out in the coming decades.

  • 29 Pierre Albert and Gilles Feyel, ‘Photography and the Media. Changes in the Illustrated Press,’ in A (...)
  • 30 Ibid., 359.

21Finally, the chapter by press historians Pierre Albert and Gilles Feyel in the 1994 A New History of Photography, edited by Michel Frizot,29 treats both Claire-Guyot’s image and the Woodburytype portraits in theater publications as halfway points between woodcut and halftone reproductions. Their study utilizes evolving techniques rather than the visual characteristics of the images to describe the transformations in newspaper and magazine publishing leading from an opinion-oriented to an information-oriented press, in which the speed of reaction ‘had a considerable impact on society and relations between groups of people.’30

  • 31 See Bruno Latour, La Science en action. Introduction à la sociologie des sciences (Paris: Gallimard (...)

22As a survey of this historiography reveals, there are a number of pitfalls faced by historians studying the use of photography in newspapers and magazines. The multiple techniques invent-ed at the crossroads of the press and photography have usually remained ‘black boxes’: ‘well-established facts or unproblematic objects.’31 Certain dates are proposed as marking decisive changes, yet the mechanics of the images fall by the wayside.

23Studying techniques makes it possible not only to understand the technical elements, but also to reassess historical knowledge. A description of the publication process in L’Illustration of the ‘gatekeeper’ reveals that its technique represents less of an iconographic break benefiting photographers, than a phenomenon of converging photographic and hand drawn forms. In order to bring academic validity to their objects of study, historians have adopted positions that leave little room for technique and have disregarded evidence that could mar a developmental process whose end result was known in advance: the massive use of photography, rather than woodcut, in the press.

Hybrid Images

24It is widely believed that photography and the press were destined to meet. So how can we make sense of coated wood without making it one of the steps in a technical teleology leading to the success of photography? Yet the images themselves do not support this version of the history of press photography. How can we differentiate between the images of the gatekeeper and the switchman? And what relationship can be drawn between the hatching of a wood engraving and the regularity of a halftone screen? The answers to these questions have created a chronological gap at the end of the nineteenth century. It can only be filled with the acceptance of the existence of hybrid images resulting from the merging of drawing, printing, and photography. Moreover, hybrid images were common practice in the illustrated press of the 1890s, as another passage from Ernest Clair-Guyot’s article on coated wood techniques and retouching suggests:

  • 32 Ibid.

25‘[Coated wood] was well accepted. At first the process was used for good images, but little by little every photograph, good or bad, was treated the same way – retouching simply took more work for the latter. This led me to perfect the finish of drawings, eliminating any personal style and making them so well done that you could no longer see any pencil or brush marks. It was absolutely photographic. The revolution was complete: photography had, in this case, reduced the illustrator to an anonymous role.’32

  • 33 L’Illustration 2666 (March 31, 1894): 245.
  • 34 L’Illustration 2690 (September 15, 1894): 220.

26Clair-Guyot’s remarks are simultaneously confirmed and contradicted by the images that were published in L’Illustration and conserved in its archives. In the 1890s, illustrators exploited photography’s descriptive potential but still signed most of their images, emphasizing their status as authors at the expense of the photographers. A March 1894 illustration by Gennaro d’Amato shows Icelandic fishermen returning to the port of Dunkirk.33 Starting with a photograph by Meys, whose name appears in the caption, the illustrator used white gouache to change the human figures and balance the masses in the scene. The image was then engraved by Tilly. Georges Scott, famed for his images of World War I, used the same technique when he illustrated French army operations in the autumn of 1894. The soldiers in the foreground were retouched with gouache and ink wash whereas the landscape in the background remained photographic. An additional figure was added to the lower right of the image, inviting the spectator to enter the scene. The image appeared as a half-page wood engraving in L’Illustration.34 These two examples – possibly reproduced using coated wood techniques – attest to the fusion of forms unified by the engraver’s work.

  • 35 L’Illustration 2644 (October 28, 1893): 300.
  • 36 L’Illustration 2668 (April 14, 1894): 289.

27The ways in which photography was used, along with modifications made by the illustrator before his compositional work was concealed by the engraver, are evident in the original photographs and reveal the shortcomings of the medium. To celebrate the Franco-Russian alliance in October 1893, L’Illustration published a full-page engraving by Bellenger.35 The original composition began with a photograph which was subsequently enriched by the illustrator. Here, the photographic print served as background. It provided the scenery or backdrop on which the illustrator positioned the story’s different elements: a crowd, politicians, and nation-al flags. An illustration by Frédéric de Haenen of a fencing match did just the opposite: it made use of the subject of the photograph.36 The illustrator glued the image on cardboard and added figures on either side so as to center the subject in a rectangular composition.

  • 37 L’Illustration 2562 (April 2, 1892): 273.

28Nearly all the photographs were significantly retouched, making it difficult to ascertain the exact nature of the original. A plate by Berteault and Scott illustrated an explosion in a building on the rue de Clichy at the end of March 1892. The color of the paper indicates a photographic base, but the numerous corrections and wash additions make it impossible to confirm this.37 All the visible elements suggest that these photographs did not fit the requirements for direct publication in the press. Contrary to received opinion, photographs were not used for their indexical value but for their descriptive qualities which had to be adapted by the illustrator in order to give them status as illustrations.

  • 38 L’Illustration 2673 (May 19, 1894): 420.
  • 39 L’Illustration 2598 (December 10, 1892): 488.
  • 40 L’Illustration 2452 (February 22, 1890): 164.

29Did publishers embrace photography as an ideal mode of illustration, or was it only accepted on certain conditions? Clearly, photography modified the illustrative process and renewed its practices, but it was forced to conform to the iconographic exigencies of the illustrated press. In the 1890s, portraits were occasionally published without being retouched by an illustrator, but such images re-spected long-standing iconographic rules. In the May 19, 1894, issue of L’Illustration, the engraver used an unretouched portrait of Colonel De Rochas by Gershel’s photographic studio.38 But more often than not, photographs had to be reworked before publication. The most common change made by the illustrator was cropping, to reorganize the compositional elements before engraving. This was usually done to isolate a human figure, as in Reutlimnger's portrait of the actress Madame Marie Magnier published in L’Illustration in December 1892.39 The illustrator painted out the background of the photograph so that the engraving’s visual center would be the actress’s silhouette. Another typical modification was to construct a hierarchy of information within the photograph. For the inauguration of a monument by Paul Baudry in February 1890, the illustrator based his work on a photograph by Louis-Émile Durandelle in which he softened background details.40 By applying translucent white paint around the contours of the monument, the illustrator reduced the presence of the contextual details for the engraver, indicating the informational hierarchy Thiriat was to respect.

  • 41 L’Illustration 2614 (April 1, 1893): 249.
  • 42 L’Illustration 2776 (September 26, 1896): 253.

30Sometimes the illustrator’s work corrected photographic flaws. In one example depicting a herd of elephants in Thailand, clouds were added to a clear sky before the image was given to the engraver.41 And it was still necessary in the 1890s to correct for the blur created by moving objects and to add contrast to gray levels that might appear dull. Questionable composition also seems to have been an issue in the photographs. As with the gatekeeper picture, many illustrations unified several photographs in a single image. Photographs were reworked and reorganized as part of the raw illustrative material that constituted an acceptable final composition. The hanging of the Shah of Persia in Tehran was illustrated in this way, using two photographs: one for the background and the other for the main subject. The images were glued and retouched with white paint before being given to Tilly.42 If the relevant photographs were not available, the illustrator filled in the missing elements, painting the necessary narrative components missing from the photographic prints.

31Restructuring the information, cropping, repairing iconographic shortcomings, blurred elements, and inadequate composition indicate that the editors of L’Illustration were not anticipating photography. Photography was accepted for its descriptive qualities, providing a time-saving device for the publication of images. Moreover, in order to be reproduced all of the examples cited were engrav-ed by Thiriat, Tilly, Beranger, or other anonymous artists. Thus every line drawn by the illustrator and every shade in the photographs were rend­ered according to the same rules of printmaking: the conversion into black and white marks. After the illustrator’s work was done, the remaining photographic elements were hidden by additional manual intervention. Photography thus came to be an important element in the process of making illustrations, but not usually as a source of added information. Though the captions sometimes mention photography, the images themselves reveal their manual processes. These hybrid images, a mix of photography and drawing, were halfway between artistic creation (indicated by the signature) and information (the context of which is given by the publication). They constituted the mainstay of L’Illustration’s iconography in the 1880s and 1890s.

  • 43 ‘Annuaire-almanach du commerce, de l'industrie, de la magistrature et de l'administration: Firmin D (...)
  • 44 Thierry Gervais, ‘L’invention du magazine. Les nouvelles formes de l’information (1898–1914),’ in ‘ (...)

32The images in L’Illustration, directed by Lucien Marc, exemplify the technical experimentation of the time as well as the cultural constraints that impeded the acceptance of photography. Aside from the issues devoted to the Salon, very few of its images were reproduced using halftone printing in the 1880s. At the close of the nineteenth century, the names of the illustrators Berteault, Amato, De Haenen, Scott, and Sabattier still appeared under published images. As the signatures of the wood engravers Tilly, Bellenger, and Thiriat appeared less often, the names Charaire and the Compagnie Americaine grew more and more frequent. These were companies listed in the commercial directory as photoengravers.43 They transformed the illustrators’ compositions into screened images by new methods, ushering in the halftone era of press photography.44

33This examination of the role of coated wood techniques at the end of the nineteenth century helps to fill that gap of nearly two decades in the narrative of the chronology of the use of photography in the press. Photography was used with coated wood techniques as a result, it would appear, of attempts by illustrators and engravers to reduce the production costs that were of great concern to press entrepreneurs. This hybrid process was a variation on wood engraving and not, as has been generally understood, a step towards an entirely photographic system. That was still to come.

Notes

1 The first images I have identified as having been reproduced using the halftone process in L’Illustration are from November 1883, and show reproductions of medallions and of works of the Japan­ese artist Hokusai. See L’Illustration 2125 (November 17, 1883): 813, 817.

2 Thierry Gervais, ’L’invention du magazine. La photographie mise en page dans la Vie au grand air,’ Études photographiques 20 (June 2007): 50–67.

3 Michel Frizot, ‘The Interview with Chevreul,’ in A New History of Photography, ed. Michel Frizot (Cologne: Könemann, 1998), 362.

4 ‘But when the feeling of presence and authenticity was needed, the “mere reproduction of a photograph” could carry a conviction unattainable by the wood engraving. On the occasion of the one-hundredth birthday of the French scientist Michel-Eugène Chervreul in 1886, Nadar's son Paul took a series of twenty-one exposures of him,’ Beaumont Newhall, The History of Photography (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1994), 252. See also Bodo von Dewitz and Robert Lebeck, ‘Die Einführung der Autotypie 1882–1895,’ in Kiosk, Eine Geschichte der Fotoreportage (Cologne: Museum Ludwig/Agfa Foto-Historama, 2001), 40–60.

5 ‘A Scene in Shantytown, New York,’ Daily Graphic, March 4, 1880. This image is reproduced in Robert Taft, Photography and the American Scene (New York: Dover Publication, 1938), 432. It is presented as the first image published using the halftone process. It is also described and reproduced in William Welling, Photography in America, The Formative Years 1839–1900 (New York: Crowell, 1978, 1987), 263–64, where it is presented as the principal photographic event of the year 1880.

6 ‘La garde-barrière,’ L’Illustration 2526 (July 25, 1891): 61.

7 Anne-Claude Ambroise-Rendu, ‘Du dessin de presse à la photographie (1878–1914): histoire d’une mutation technique et culturelle,’ Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine (January–March 1992): 6.

8 L’Illustration 2380 (October 6, 1888): 241; L’Illustration 2459 (April 12, 1890): 305.

9 L’Illustration 2525 (July 18, 1891): 51.

10 L’Illustration 2463 (May 10, 1890): 412.

11 L’Illustration 2253 (May 1, 1886): 311.

12 L’Illustration 2156 (June 21, 1884): 421.

13 At first, Gillot used thick white paper into which he embossed regular parallel lines using a small wheel. The reliefs where then darkened to create ‘fine lines that could be reproduced on the plate using photoengraving.’ See Charles Gillot, ‘Obtention de clichés typographiques imitant la gravure sur bois au moyen d’un procédé de dessin et de photogravure,’ patent 121,437, September 18, 1877, INPI. As was specified in the Bulletin de la SFP, the process was soon simplified ‘as the artist takes a piece of paper that has already been covered with lines and grain, and works on it using different crayons, a scraper, etc.’ See ‘Séance du 1er juin 1883,’ BSFP, no. 6 (1883): 146.

14 Robert Price, ‘Procédé pour obtenir des images photographiques sur une surface de bois destinée à être gravée,’ patent 32,484, June 4, 1857, INPI.

15 Alphonse Davanne, ‘Exposition universelle internationale de 1878. Rapports du jury international, groupe II, classe XII. Les épreuves et les appareils de photographie’ (Paris: Imprimerie nationale, 1880), 34.

16 E. Frewing, ‘Photographie sur bois,’ BSFP, no. 9 (1886): 250.

17 L’Illustration 2526 (July 25, 1891): 61.

18 ‘L’agitation ouvrière,’ L’Illustration 2521 (June 20, 1891): 538.

19 Ibid.

20 ‘Les syndicats ouvriers,’ L’Illustration 2522 (June 27, 1891): 549.

21 ‘Les employés du chemin de fer. L’aiguilleur,’ L’Illustration 2523 (July 4, 1891): 12.

22 Ernest Clair-Guyot, ‘Un demi-siècle à L’Illustration,’ L’Illustration 4713 (July 1, 1933) (unnumbered pages, my emphasis).

23 Ibid.

24 Raymond Lécuyer, ‘Photographie et gravure sur bois,’ in Histoire de la photographie (Paris: Baschet et Cie, 1945), 258–59.

25 Ibid., 259.

26 Jean-Noël Marchandiau, ‘L’Illustration’ 1843–1944. Vie et mort d’un journal (Toulouse: Bibliothèque historique Privat, 1987), 166.

27 Ibid.

28 Ambroise-Rendu, ‘Du dessin de presse à la photographie’ (note 7), 6–28.

29 Pierre Albert and Gilles Feyel, ‘Photography and the Media. Changes in the Illustrated Press,’ in A New History of Photography, ed. Michel Frizot (note 3), 361.

30 Ibid., 359.

31 See Bruno Latour, La Science en action. Introduction à la sociologie des sciences (Paris: Gallimard, Folio Essai collection, 1995), 319.

32 Ibid.

33 L’Illustration 2666 (March 31, 1894): 245.

34 L’Illustration 2690 (September 15, 1894): 220.

35 L’Illustration 2644 (October 28, 1893): 300.

36 L’Illustration 2668 (April 14, 1894): 289.

37 L’Illustration 2562 (April 2, 1892): 273.

38 L’Illustration 2673 (May 19, 1894): 420.

39 L’Illustration 2598 (December 10, 1892): 488.

40 L’Illustration 2452 (February 22, 1890): 164.

41 L’Illustration 2614 (April 1, 1893): 249.

42 L’Illustration 2776 (September 26, 1896): 253.

43 ‘Annuaire-almanach du commerce, de l'industrie, de la magistrature et de l'administration: Firmin Didot et Bottin réunis’ (Paris: Firmin-Didot Frères, 1899), 2191.

44 Thierry Gervais, ‘L’invention du magazine. Les nouvelles formes de l’information (1898–1914),’ in ‘L’Illustration photographique. Naissance du spectacle de l’information (1843–1914)’ (Ph.D. diss., EHESS, 2007), 359–471.

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Thierry Gervais, « On Either Side of the ‘Gatekeeper’ », Études photographiques, 23 | mai 2009, [En ligne], mis en ligne le 07 mai 2014. URL : http://etudesphotographiques.revues.org/3423. consulté le 22 octobre 2017.

Auteur

Thierry Gervais

Thierry Gervais is author of a dissertation entitled ‘L’Illustration photographique. Naissance du spectacle de l’information (1843–1914).’ He is currently pursuing postdoctoral research at Ryerson University (Toronto, Canada) where he teaches the history of photography and is exploring the emergence of the figure of the photoreporter. In 2007–2008, he curated exhibits in Paris at the Jeu de Paume (L’événement. Les images comme acteur de l’histoire) and the Musée d’Orsay (Léon Gimpel, 1873–1948. Les audaces d’un photographe). He recently published with Gaëlle Morel La Photographie. Histoire, techniques, art, presse (Larousse, 2008).

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