Archive for the Photogravure Category

Madge Meredith, Playing Witch, 1946

Posted in 40s, Photogravure, SFW on 2 August 2011 by redwitch1

This Madge Meredith press photo was released while Trail Street—a “solid Randolph Scott Western”—was in production. Since the film was released on 19 February 1947 and the snipe was released for use on All Saint’s Day [aka All Hallows or Hallowmas]—the day following the big night for witches (i.e., All Hallows Eve or Halloween)—then I am assuming that this photo was circulated in November 1946 . The full snipe reads:

Bewitchin’ is the word for the well-dressed woman come All Saint’s Day. In proof—Madge Meredith all dressed up in a witch’s brew of a hat specially concocted by Designer Edward Stevenson, who threw into the pot a yard or so of night-black gaberdine, cooked it up into a tall, tall crown with a swoop of a brim (the better for riding whirlwinds) then added an old broomstick tipped with broomstraw yellow feathers. Madge, to add to the gaiety of the seasons, adds joak-o-lantern [sic] earrings. When she is not playing witch, Madge is engaged in playing a co-starring role in RKO Radio’s “Trail Street”

Here are the “joak-o-lantern earrings”:

And here is a broom-shaped hat pin. Or rather, a broom-shaped hat pin that has been painted onto the photo. (What this looks like to me, is a standard artist’s paint brush being used as a hat pin that has been “touched up” to look more like a witch’s broom).

I did a post in February of a 1922 postcard which included a “broom-shaped hat-pin thing”, and another in March of a 1912 postcard. I said in the first post that I had a few of these, and that I would post them all, and now I have! So, here they are:

[broom-shaped hat-pins from 1912, 1922, 1946]

Mortensen, Preparation for the Sabbat, 1936

Posted in 30s, Photograph, Photogravure, SFW on 23 January 2010 by redwitch1

William Mortensen, Monsters & Madonnas. A Book of Methods (San Francisco, CA: Camera Craft Publishing Company, 1936), contains the above plate, titled “Preparation for the Sabbot” [sic].

According to this essay by Cary Loren, the book “was a distilled manifesto of [Mortensen’s] thoughts and a response to the dominance of straight photography.”

Mortensen (1897–1965) championed “Pictorialism,” a photographic method that promoted retouching, hand-working negatives, using chemical washes, and adopting an artistic, painterly approach to photographic art. It was a losing battle, and Mortensen’s obscurity today is the result of the success modernist approaches captured, for me, by Max Dupain’s “Sunbaker” of 1934 (see here).

“Preparation for the Sabbot” was one of twenty photogravure reproductions of Mortensen’s work, “prepared and arranged so that they may be removed for framing without damaging the book” (as the advertisement informs us).

Also “accompanying each picture is a complete exposition of the methods used in producing the print and the artistic principles involved.” Mortensen’s Monsters & Madonnas is now an expensive book (ca. USD400), and even individual, highlight plates, such as this one, are not cheap (you can pay almost USD100 for this plate alone!).

Since I wanted a plate from the first edition, and I couldn’t afford the whole volume, I missed out on the “complete exposition of the methods …” One day I hope to get a copy of the book and when I do I’ll do a further post on the image, or update this post.

Unfortunately—putting aside the photographer’s methods—this composition is utterly conventional. The young witch being anointed by an older witch, the young witch, front and centre, illuminated against a dim and gloomy background, the peasant clothes and furniture, the soft focus. (See here and here—photo no. 2—for similar treatments.)

The only thing at all different is the “broom stick,” which is appears to be a branch from a palm tree, a hint that Mortensen worked primarily among the palms in Hollywood.

It is not that I don’t like this photograph. I love it, and I wouldn’t have bought it if I didn’t! The model is very pretty, she has lovely pale skin, gentle curves and a very mischievous smile—but I am very easily pleased when it comes to pictures of witches. And even I can see why Dupain’s “Sunbaker” is considered an iconic 30s image, while Mortensen’s “Preparation for the Sabbot” is not.

Still, this is not a bad thing for us, because if Mortensen’s photograph was valued as highly as Dupain’s I would never have been able to buy a copy and you would never have got to see it in such detail!

Photogravure of The Vision of Faust, 1893

Posted in 19thC, Falero, Photogravure, PSFW on 11 April 2009 by redwitch1

Two weeks ago, in my post on “The Vision by Falero” (1880), I mentioned the photogravure of this painting that appeared in Clarence Lansing, The Nude in Art (Boston, 1893), a scarce and valuable volume of high-quality prints.

I thought some of you might like to see more detail of the photogravure so, in between scanning Swedish Easter Witch postcards (I will do another post on these next week, then return to Falero), I scanned the same three parts of Falero’s painting that I reproduced in my previous post. That way you can compare the photogravure with the original painting.

Comparing the above images, it is obvious that some detail is lost, and much of the impact is reduced by rendering the rich flesh colours in grayscale. But if you look at a very detailed scan of one of the faces, you can also see the “subtle rich texture” that is so characteristic of photogravures. It is a trade-off, no doubt, but if you can’t have the original … it is still very nice.

Finally, Angela Caperton noticed “an interesting detail” in this photogravure: “the little witch on a broom” that has been “added to Falero’s work, as if the person that added it wanted to make sure everyone knew what they were looking at?” (See a detailed scan here.)

Exactly. My theory is that the hag-witch image is so deeply ingrained (partly because of the moral requirement for bad people—and witches were unquestionably thought to be evil—to be ugly and/or to die early and painful deaths) that it has taken a over a century of exposure to images such as this one for people to recognise an attractive, young woman as a witch without all the diabolical aspects that we see in nineteenth-century artworks and popular images. A procession of beautiful young women dressing as witches once a year for Halloween over the last century has certainly helped this process of “re-education.” The aim of this blog is to act as a more constant reminder: once per week instead of one per year! (Or in this case, as a special Easter treat, twice per week!)


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