For me, the real beauty and fascination of working with photogravure is the possibility of reinventing the process at almost every step. Each gravure is a mountain to climb, an exploration that requires a unique solution for every challenge. Paradoxically, this complexity provides the freedom to create the image you have visualized, reminiscent of how the many instruments in an orchestra transform the score into a cohesive work.
Photogravure is a hybrid art. It blends the creative potential of the photographic arts with that of the intaglio printmaking process, offering a result unattainable by either alone. While demanding proficiency in both fields, it rewards the dedicated gravure artist with unlimited possibilities for interpretation of the original image.
My personal approach is to use the total palette as the situation dictates. Sometimes a simple monochromatic image has all the strength necessary to carry the message. Conversely, it can also be exciting to push an idea through multiple film transformations in the darkroom, then to extensively rework the image on two or three color plates, culminating in a complex and challenging printing session.
To illustrate, here is a brief outline of the evolution of a photogravure. "Ivory Snow" was photographically appropriated from an actual soap box, somewhat tattered and faded from being kicked around my various studios for thirty years. The challenge was to faithfully bring this image from the cardboard box to the copper plate, then to ink on paper. After the darkroom work, the following decisions had to be made. How many colors would be used, how many plates would be needed, which plates would have which colors, and what would be the order of printing? To prepare for the mechanical process of printing, the plates had to be sized exactly so that the registration on the press would be accurate. Colors had to be mixed to match the colors on the soap box.
Could all this be done digitally? Of course. But you would not be holding a hand-produced document. Intaglio printmaking has a beauty and power to it that is very different from inkjet. As more and more digital imagery enters the world of fine art, it becomes even more satisfying to work in the classical tradition. There is a growing public interest in these early technologies for a good reason. As Susan Sontag wrote as early as 1977 in her book On Photography;
"The cult of the future (of faster and more faster seeing) alternates with the wish to return to a more artisanal, purer past - when images still had a handmade quality, an aura."