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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Pierre Brochet

Dates:  1922, 10 December -
Born:  France, Auxerre
Active:  France / Algeria / Morocco / Tunisia / Egypt
French contemporary photogravurist, photographer and expert in historical photographic processes.

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Photographic activities since 13th year.
Membership of the Photographic Society of Auxerre.
Secondary school (Latin, Greek, English)
Attendance to several Photographic Societies: Société Française de Photographie, à Paris, Le groupe des 30x40, Le Photo-club du Val de Bièvres.
Honour from A.FIAP in 1984 (Artist of the International Federation of Photographic Art)
Medal from the French Federation of Photography
Member of Honour of this French Federation of Photography in 1986
Elected to the Directory Committee of this Federation in 1975, Responsible for the organisation of the “Coupe de France” contest. Remains in function until 1985
Participation at international exhibitions along with numerous personal expositions in Paris and other towns in France, for example:
Centre Olympus, Paris
Ecole Nationale de Photographie in Arles
Musée Nicéphore Niepce in Chalon sur Saône
Municipale library of Boulogne sur Mer ("Egypt")
File of engravings can be seen in public collections of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (section "engravings and photography")
Photographic and heliographic series
Portraits – Attenda
Landscapes of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia
Tassili Desert (100km journey)
Slaughterhouse scenes
Colour reproductions of 35 old embossments for the bicentennial of the French Revolution (Paris Musées) ; selling in France, Japan and USA
Reproduction of 10 embossments from Mary Cassat in trichromy (for Editions Tchou and Bibiothèque nationale)
Various works for:
Musée Carnavalet in Paris
Fondation Claude Monet in Giverny
Bibliothèque historique de la Ville de Paris
Institut géographique national (IGN)
Centre National Pompidou in Paris
Musée français de la Photographie in Bièvres
Various towns and municipalities
Individuals – Editors – Photographers – sculptors – painters
Portfolios and publications
"Mariette ou la métamorphose des ruines" (1000 examples) for the town of Boulogne sur mer and its municipal library
"The South of France" large portfolio 50 x 68 cm in a box : 10 heliogravures 30 x 40 cm in 40 x 50 presentation, according to calotypes from Charles Nègre.
Portfolio "APA" in a box containing 20 heliogravures according to images from the APA members
Other events
In 1985, creation of APA “Association for the ancient photography and its technics’ ‘’ comprising presently about 100 members, specialised in the study and the practice of the old photographic processes.
Personal experience in numerous old processes: daguerreotype, carbon print, gum, platinum, palladium, salt paper, heliogravure etc..
Management of technical stages in the Museum of Châlon sur Saône, at Pithiviers and in many towns in France.
Adjusting of a heliographic process for the visual reproduction of the “modelé”, showing the relief of the photographied subjects without any optical system. Development of a port-folio of personal prints made with this technique : “Heliogravures 3D” with texts.
Writing of numerous papers in journals and in the “bulletin de l’APA” concerning old photographic techniques.
Contact details
Pierre BROCHET - 48 rue du Pont - F 77890 – Beaumont du Gatinais
Tel. 33 (0) 1 64 29 90 73
Mail :
Photogravure as a Three-Dimensional Object
Research Journal, Pierre Brochet
Photogravure etchings are printed from a copperplate that has been etched with iron perchloride. The etching ink, held in the cavities of the plate, is impressed into a special paper, presenting a kind of projection formed of particles invisible to the naked eye, yet whose three-dimensional character may be revealed under suitable light.
To achieve this result, artist/printmakers in the past have varied the composition of the ink. It is easy enough to add elements that give some superficial brilliance to the etching – these are described in some ancient texts. Nowadays these additives are hard to find. For example, one formula included: wax, soap, tallow, spermaceti, gum arabic, sodium carbonate, lamp-black, etc.! But these ingredients did not achieve the desired effect.
Next came ink additives that reflected light, in particular mica, which was sold in five-kilogram cans. But ink made with it was so abrasive that no more than three impressions could be made from one copperplate. Other additives followed these first attempts, but none gave the sought-for look; they all remained obtrusively visible on the surface of the print, like some alien form.
Numerous experiments, performed at irregular intervals over the years, led to the conclusion that printing technique and knowhow were more important than ink composition. In photogravure, every element is related to all the others, and hands-on experience is the only way to coordinate them all successfully.
The principal steps of photogravure etching are widely known, on the Internet and in ancient or modern manuals. But most or all of these are quite far from the realities of actual practice. The essence of this technique consists of a series of judgments and understandings which cannot be reduced to words. The experience is incommunicable because it is made up in part by what one feels at the moment, intuitively and indescribably.
The mistakes occasioned in the course of my research have led me to a detailed analysis of the various steps required from the very beginning of the process, to create life-like relief in the final print. The task was to understand which factors generate and contribute to an image that is so different from ordinary prints. Analysis of each step can shed light on the interim results and on the kinds of manipulation needed to give this extraordinary 3D effect.
In the first place, the film must allow for high-quality enlargement, either from large formats or from very fine-grain 35-mm. In effect, film quality will determine the quality of the etching.
Next comes the positive transparency. Because this must be made with both lines and grayscale in mind, conventional numerical indices of the midtone density will not suffice. The transparency is made the same size as the intended etching, and its contrast may be measured with a densitometer. Exposure of the carbon tissue [resist] can only be estimated, based on the anticipated etching time. The aquatint powder will be dispersed on the copperplate so as to leave a certain distance between the grains. The resin can be quite capricious: fine or coarse, dense or loose, heated too much or not enough. The etchant which carves the cavities where ink is held will do its work differently depending on the forms assumed by the aquatint grains. No recipe can accurately determine these operations, they can only be guided by some sixth sense and by past experience. In the aquatint box, the powder may appear heavy or humid, or electrified by stormy weather. It might cling to the walls of the box and fail to fall in sufficient quantity onto the copperplate, or it might fall too quickly to the bottom of the box. The nature of the aquatint grains can change suddenly. Their heating (at 105º) will determine the ink-retaining capacity of the plate and thus the density of ink to be used. Paradoxically a deeply etched plate with insufficiently spaced grains will print without vigour, as the ink will not be freely drawn out of the bottom of the plate’s cavities.
Finally the moment of truth: the etching where all the previous operations are gathered together. Again there are no fixed rules, merely an estimate of the right concentration of the etchant and of the etching time in relation to all that has gone before.
Imagine that everything so far has come together harmoniously (bonheur!) and that the copperplate is well-etched for printing. Now one must use all the best printers’ practices. While a specialized printer may have to print many different types of intaglio, such as drypoint, burin engraving, etching, mezzotint, etc., he would probably not know how to print aquatint-grain photogravures, whose imagery is photographic. Specialized printers are not accustomed to interpreting intaglio; instead they print all plates ‘straight’, like darkroom specialists who make photos without masking. Using commercially available printing inks, whose ingredients are not disclosed, makes it impossible to determine which effect was produced by which ingredient. It is impossible to know the size of the ink particles except by making one’s own ink with calibrated equipment, and this has a crucial bearing on the look of the print. One must actually do the printing oneself to obtain the desired result, which is the culmination and recollection of all the previous work. Even if the copperplate is technically perfect, it is still necessary to invent and imagine the best solution, and often to do hand-work on the plate with the burin, burnisher, roulette, etc. Among all these procedures, how to identify those that have contributed to the three-dimensional quality of the gravure?
In looking carefully at these gravures, one can see that the whites are brilliant, without a trace of ink, with the same reflectance as the unlinked margin of paper. The midtones are shimmering with various degrees of projection and the blacks are dense with a matte finish. From this it is clear that the shimmering effect comes from differential deflection of light. One experiment confirms this fact: If the ink relief of a photogravure etching is crushed into a flat surface coating, the resulting image looks like a bromoil photo where all the relief has disappeared! Similarly, when comparing a chemically modified bromoil print with a photogravure etching, both have distinct matte and shiny areas, but only the photogravure etching has visible relief.
Without an attentive examination of all of these factors, it is impossible to define accurately, amidst the myriad operations, what actually produces this transformation. Without question, working experience leads unconsciously to the precise techniques that work toward this goal. But how to define the way the side of the palm is lightly dragged across the surface of the plate? How to set the pressure of the press cylinders? What kinds of felt blanket are best? Which paper? What kind of moistening of the paper? What density of negative? What exposure of the carbon tissue? How much etching time? What concentration of etchant? How much thinning of ink? And so forth.
When we consider that all these parameters are a matter of guesswork, and that each reacts upon the others, the three-dimensional quality of photogravure remains providential and mysterious. Each attempt will be difficult and uncertain, until we acquire sufficient fineness of touch and have learned how to exercise it repeatedly.
Pierre Brochet
Letter to a friend
My dear _____,
In your last letter, you ask me why I spent so much time in my lab and in my workroom to polish up my last work. You may correctly appreciate the incredible relief on these original photogravures. You add, before having seen them, that this peculiarity gives not much worth to the print. However, for me, it is a true improvement over what I have done in the past.
This concern began about twenty years ago, when I saw, at the ”Bibliothèque Nationale”, engravings with singular reflections and unusual relief. Thus I knew with certainty that it is possible to obtain these effects, but I did not know how to do it.
Naturally, if I thought photography (and the engraving that follows from it) were to be used only for report or for description, I would never have tried to improve my prints in this direction. But I have always liked photographs of nature and of materials where very often, abstract subjects are encountered, in which it is possible to project my imagination, such as when I look at clouds, wishing to discover forms in them. I found there plenty of motifs, a large part of which are worthwhile to present with three-dimensional relief. I have classified thousands of my photos under the name “mineral world”.
To see the importance of three-dimensional relief, take stereoscopy as an example. We are always surprised to view these images of small landscapes, small individuals, small objects, with relief. But this appearance is virtual and is obtained only with optical devices. Relief appears with two magnifying lenses or with two polarizing filters, or with two coloured glasses, but never with the naked eye. However, the surprise is always there, as if witnessing a miniature world.
Consider now my 3D photogravure which is not virtual. You can observe its relief without any special device and hold it in the hand; while the hand-held stereoscopic image is not perceptible. When the light is right, the relief will appear at the same scale as the rest of the image. You have before you the photographed object and it appears with its true natural relief. Isn’t it amazing? You gaze at the surface of a rock and a true rock is present on the paper. It is so realistic that it’s difficult to remove your gaze from it.
But there’s more. Notice that when you adjust slightly the angle of light, you tilt the gravure and you expose it with different angles with respect to the daylight or the lamp direction. Watch! “Look at me changing”(Paul Valéry), the shadows darken, the lights brighten and gradually you see several versions of the same photo. A simple motion of your hand creates new contrasts and patterns of light and shadow! Now the life in the image is yours to model as you like! If you do not find enough density in the blacks, you may make them more opaque by orienting the image perpendicularly to the window. But you need to avoid some light sources such as those of some meeting rooms where fluorescent tubes give a light without direction. We cannot see a relief with light that has none.
That is what I wanted to explain.
[Editorial note - Alan Griffiths, June 14, 2007]
The documents above have kindly been translated by fellow photogravurist Peter Miller from originals provided by Pierre Brochet and have been included as they tell us a lot about the generous spirit of a passionate man. Understanding photography is far more than just the photographs it is about the people that create them and what motivates them.  
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