Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Mr. Knife Miss Fork

Max Ernst, Photogram for Mr. Knife Miss Fork, 1931

The photogram was invented by Max Ernst and Man Ray as a means of making a photograph without a camera or lens. Essentially it is a development of the earlier cliché-verre printmaking technique, which was briefly popular with the Barbizon School artists.

Max Ernst’s photograms are among the most important works of a long career in which he was one of the leading figures in two artistic revolutions, Dada and Surrealism. They were made by combining line drawing and frottage (textural rubbings) on pieces of thin translucent paper, and then using those pieces of paper as photographic negatives to create a reverse image (white on black) on photosensitive paper. Each photogram had to be individually made from the original drawing.

The best of Max Ernst’s photograms were his images for the book Mr. Knife Miss Fork, published in 1931 in an edition of 255 copies. I don’t have a copy of this, but I do have one of the photograms for Mr. Knife Miss Fork, separately printed for the specialist typographical journal Arts et Métiers Graphiques. In some ways this photogram stands alongside the contemporary fashion for white line wood-engraving, but the innovative technique employed sets it apart, as does the sublime confidence of Max Ernst’s image-making.

Max Ernst, Composition, lithograph, 1958

I also have several original lithographs by Ernst, but it is the photogram that stands out as a truly original and groundbreaking work of art.


thhq said...

Boy this is late, but I'm a fan of AMG. I have serious doubts about whether the so-called Ernst photogram in AMG26 is really a photogram. AMG is a journal of typography, and every other insert appears to be a commercial reproduction of some kind. AMG even published articles on how the various reproductions were done in the 1900-1940 period.

Neil said...

Hi thhq - apologies for the late reply. Now you have raised the question I'm going to have to find a copy of Mr Knife Miss Fork in a library somewhere to compare the two, but at the moment my view is that the AMG print is an original not a reproduction. They are usually quite specific about the nature of the tipped-in plates (for instance making it clear in the same issue that the lithograph by Mariette Lydis is a reproduction). AMG's hors-texte plates seem to me a mixture of originals and reproductions, rather like other typographical journals of the period, such as Signature in the UK.