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Jacob W. Lewis

The 2009 Winner

Jacob W. Lewis for research on Charles Nègre

APHA is pleased to announce the winner of the 2009 competition. Jacob W. Lewis for his proposal, entitled “From Repetition to Reproduction: Charles Nègre in Pursuit of the Photographic.” will be the Mark Samuels Lasner Fellow for 2008. The Fellowship Committee’s citation follows:

Mr. Lewis is a graduate student pursing a Ph.D. in art history at Northwestern University. His dissertation examines the work of French artist, inventor, and photographer Charles Nègre (1820-1880). Mr. Lewis is studying a photogravure printing technique that was patented by Nègre to print camera-made images in ink pulled from an intaglio plate, a history that has been ignored by the art history community in favor of Nègre’s role as an art photographer. Mr. Lewis writes: “Though today we consider photography a reproductive medium first and foremost, reproducibility was neither inherent nor logical to photography in its infancy […] I seek to explain how photography shifted from a flexible set of practices that gained currency among early photographers to an industrial mode of reproduction, though not without resistance from amateurs like Nègre. My focused research on printing history investigates Nègre’s conflicted role at the foundation of what Walter Benjamin has called “technological reproducibility.” Far from endeavors toward purely mechanical reproduction, Nègre’s gravures show that early photomechanical reproductions sought to fuse traditional and handmade printmaking with mechanical processes. The photogravure’s status as a hybrid object made by hand, developed by chemicals, and printed by mechanical means compels a reexamination of the history of the photomechanical reproduction prior to its modern ubiquity. Specifically, I investigate Nègre’s role in the Duc de Luynes competition (1856–1867), which sought to award an inventor for the most permanent and commercially viable photomechanical technique. Nègre lost to the chemist Alphonse Poitevin (1819-1882), but material related to the protracted contest reveals much about the social meanings of photography and reproducibility, and charts the wide shift from amateur to industrial science in nineteenth-century society. My focus on Nègre’s work and that of his contemporaries is to argue for the photographic illustration – rather than the photograph – as the key technology which codified reproducibility as native to photography as well as symptomatic of modernity.”

Mr. Lewis will travel to Paris in September and October of 2009 to research prints and archival material preserved in the collections of the Société Française de Photographie and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, where he will explore evidence related to Nègre and the Duc de Luynes competition. Mr. Lewis will also survey the archive of Nègre’s technical notes, journals, and contracts housed at the Musée d’Orsay. He also plans to examine original gravure plates preserved by the Chalcographie du Louvre and the BNF in order to study Nègre’s technique.

Currently, there is no dissertation in English published on Nègre, despite his prominence in museum collections and histories of Second Empire photography; we look forward to the results of Mr. Lewis’s work.