Photogravure is an intaglio printmaking process wherein a copper plate is coated with a light-sensitive gelatin tissue which has been exposed to a film positive, and then etched, resulting in a high quality intaglio print that can reproduce the detail and continuous tones of a photograph. Photogravure was developed in the 1870’s and became one of the first widely used techniques for reproducing photographic imagery. Photogravure is unique among photo-printmaking techniques in that it is truly photographic; i.e. the photographic image is realized in continuous tones rather than broken up, via a half-tone screen, into dots of white or black that blend visually to simulate a photographic appearance, as in photo-lithography, photo-etching and photo-silkscreen. The photogravure print is printed on paper from the etched copper plate that has been inked and wiped as a regular intaglio plate.
Photographers of the Photo-Secession and Pictorialist movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries prized photogravure for its ability to render a wide tonal range, soft tones and details. The technique later fell into disuse as most photographers utilized the convenient and high quality silver gelatin papers to print their images. Interestingly, a consequence of the rise of digital photography has been renewed interest in some of the early techniques of photography, and photogravure has been enjoying something of a renaissance in the past 20 years or so. Higgins is one of a small but growing group of contemporary practitioners, working in photogravure with contemporary artists and making his own work at Manneken Press.