The Half Moon, 1864
photoglyphic engraving
image: 3 ¾ x 3in. (9.5 x 7.5cm.)
sheet: 5 5/8 x 4 1/4in. (14.2 x 10.1cm.)
Marie-Thérèse and André Jammes, Paris;
with Hans P. Kraus, Jr. Fine Photographs, New York, 2011
Talbot and Photogravure, Sun Pictures Catalogue Twelve, Hans P. Kraus Jr. Fine Photographs, New York, 2003, cat. no. 29.
De Niépce à Stieglitz – La photographie en taille-douce, Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne, November 1982-February 1983

If you wish to view the condition report of this lot, please sign in to your account.

Sign in
View condition report

Lot Essay

That the first successful photograph of the Moon, a 20-minute exposure captured by American John Draper using a 12-inch telescope, came in photography’s great year, 1839, should be no surprise. The seemingly fugitive light of the moon in our sky called the Moon echoes the signs of early failure to fix images; it begins full, detailed, bright, but slowly diminishes into dark obscurity.
Plagued by the fading photographic image, William Henry Fox Talbot began his photoglyphic experiments primarily to combat the phenomenon that was all too common—in 1855, the Photographic Society even formed a study group called the “Fading Committee.” Talbot's early photogenic drawings are so ephemeral that, despite their exceptional beauty, they can never be exhibited or exposed to light without risk of change. Even his far more stable calotypes, fixed with hypo, were inconsistent in their permanence. A reviewer of the 1862 International Exhibition described some photographs as "fading before the eyes of the nations assembled." The primary problem with reproducing a photograph as a printed image at this time was the reliable reproduction of the intermediate tonal areas on the plate, known as halftones. Talbot developed his process gradually taking out two patents, for photographic engraving (1852), and photoglyphic engraving (1858). It was this second patent that established the basis for photogravure. Talbot’s innovations included the use of potassium bichromate sensitized gelatin for fixing the photographic image to the plate and perhaps more importantly the use of a screen to enable the accurate reproduction of the halftone areas within an image. Talbot spent the last twenty-five years of his life developing and perfecting an effective photogravure process that is still used today.
Talbot’s exquisite Moon image is fortified by the work’s importance within the history of the photographic medium and existence as stunning physical object. Texture in the print extends beyond the Moon itself, as its distinct valleys and craters are reflected in the surrounding irregular dark surface caused by Talbot’s printing process. We view the familiar Moon and recognize its understood distance, but are drawn to the printing plate’s tiny surface imperfections, oscillating between foreground and background, subject and object, index and image.

More from 20/21 Photographs/ Leaves of Light and Shadow: Photographs Gathered by William T. Hillman

View All
View All