21ST Editions started in 1998 as 21ST: The Journal of Contemporary Photography. The original mission of the press was to broaden the dialogue of contemporary fine art photography by bringing together the widest variety of photographic work with the finest international writers, poets, and essayists. The six volumes of the Journal published between 1998 and 2002 represent an astonishing survey of artistic visions and literary voices, revealing current thoughts on photography from a unique range of critical, intellectual, and historical points of view.
Following the critical acclaim received as early as 1999 (The Wall Street Journal), the press expanded its offerings in 2000 to include fine press, handmade monographs on the work of various photographers to serve as a complement to its Journal anthologies. Each of these hand-crafted monographs are illustrated with original signed photographs. They incorporate new writing by the artists themselves, leading contemporary historians, critics, poets, novelists, and philosophers. 21ST Editions has also published the works of such classic writers as Pindar, Han Shan, Shakespeare, Blake, Baudelaire, Whitman, Apollinaire, Rilke, and others, including contemporary poets.
21ST Editions titles have been acquired by over 50 U.S. and international museums and special collections libraries, including the Library of Congress, the Chapin Memorial Library, the Getty Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, Cornell University, Stanford University, Rochester Institute of Technology, the Boston Athenaeum, the Ransom Center (Austin) the George Eastman House, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the British Library, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and others.
In 2009 the press established its Legacy Editions imprint. While 21ST Editions focuses on the creation of fine art photography titles, Legacy Editions was established to survey the broader horizons of history, art, and culture. Both imprints are committed to the mission of revitalizing the centuries old art of fine book making, with the goal of making each volume an object of beauty that reflects the highest standards of craftsmanship and artistic and cultural significance.
Strong yet supple bindings, custom endpapers, hand-worked covers, even the fragrance—so many tangible sensibilities of artisanship—define each volume. There is a clearly perceptible difference between a mass produced and a finely crafted book, one that is often lost in today's world of disposable literature and digital downloads. When once again we hold this fine object of passion and skill, feel its heft, smell its unique blend of leather and rich inks, all the reasons why they are so precious return immediately to mind.
The elegant texts for our letterpress publications are printed from metal or polymer type. Each sheet of paper is printed by hand, and only one color ink can be applied at a time. While laborious and time consuming, no other form of printing is as refined as letterpress.
The Platinum/Palladium Print
The hand-coated platinum print is one of the most sumptuous and expressive forms of photographic imaging. A platinum or palladium print is created by hand-coating a sheet of fine artist's paper with a precisely mixed emulsion of photosensitive platinum and/or palladium metals. Unlike a silver gelatin photograph, where the light sensitive silver halide crystals are suspended in a thin layer gelatin that rests on the surface of the paper, the platinum /palladium emulsion soaks into and becomes part of the paper itself. Platinum/palladium prints provide the most expanded tonal scale of all photographic arts. Each image radiates a gentle warmth, detail in the richest shadows, delicate whites, and an almost three-dimensional image depth. Since they require considerably more effort and much more expensive materials, platinum and palladium images tend to be rare and unique. They stand today as one of the most ethereal and graceful forms of photographic expression, a preferred medium of the masters.
An historic process that melds the aesthetic of two of photography's most beautiful processes. The platinum print is sought for its subtle and delicate rendering of the image, as well as for its being the most archival of the photographic processes. Gum is a process that uses the finest watercolor pigments in a solution of gum Arabic to imbue the image with a unique signature, akin to a drawing. Marrying the two processes creates a hand-crafted image with a quality unlike any other. In making the gum-over-platinum print, the artist paints 100% rag paper with his platinum solution and hand processes it in his specially equipped studio. He then coats the finished platinum print with a gum solution formulated specifically for the image, and processes it. This step is often repeated as the image demands. The process is demanding and exacting, and each print takes several days to complete. The finished piece is a uniquely beautiful interpretation of the image.
The Fresson print process was invented by Théodore-Henri Fresson around 1899 and continued to this day, first by his sons Pierre and Edmond, and now his grandson Jean-Francois. The addition of color into the original charcoal-based process was introduced in 1950. This process uses pure color pigments and saw dust. It is proprietary and therefore extremely rare with each print being considered unique.
An exquisite form of image making, the hand-pulled photogravure is a method so fine-and so dependent on the lifelong skill of the committed artisan-that it constantly teeters on the edge of extinction in the modern world. Photogravures are created by pressing a hand inked copper plate etched from a film positive onto fine artist's paper. The continuous-tone image is retained from the recessed areas on the plate that are etched to varying depths, each retaining different quantities of ink. Theses exquisite prints exhibit a luxurious range of tones, from luminous whites to rich blacks, that brings both visual and tactile textures to life.
Silver Gelatin Print
The majority of black and white photographs seen in galleries and major exhibitions are silver prints. In the hands of a skillful printer they can reveal an astonishingly beautiful range of tones and textures. Silver gelatin prints are made by projecting a negative image through an enlarger onto a sheet of photographic paper in the darkroom. Microscopic silver halide crystals, suspended in a thin emulsion of gelatin on the surface of the photographic paper, are exposed to light patterns that correspond to those in the negative. The positive image is revealed when the paper is developed in a series of chemical baths. The expressive power of the final silver print can then be even further enhanced by a variety of toning processes used by the photographer to add yet another level of beauty and subtly to his or her work.
Offset printing is a mechanized version of a traditional lithography process where oil and water are use to separate the image and non-image areas. The images are transferred to a plate that is inked, then transferred again, or "offset," to a second plate to ensure the highest level of sharpness and detail before the image isprinted onto paper. We have pursued the use of environmentally friendly processes whenever possible. Additionally, our close collaboration with some of the oldest and most respected American printing companies allows us the exacting control and attention to detail that is essential to any 21ST Editions or Legacy Editions publication.