To English-speaking readers in humanities, the phrase ‘photomechanical reproduction’ frequently invokes Walter Benjamin’s influential essay ‘The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction’ (1936). Benjamin (1892–1940) was a German Jewish writer, theorist and social critic active in the decades leading up to the Second World War. He claimed that new photomechanical forms of media representation such as film or photomagazines were a revolutionary challenge to established elite forms of art. He developed his ideas by observing practical avant-garde graphic experiments of montage artists such as John Heartfield or Hannah Höch and by absorbing the theoretical atmosphere of critical debate generated by the Marxist-oriented ‘Frankfurt School’, named after the Institute for Social Research, Frankfurt, founded by Max Horkheimer in 1923, set up to investigate the formation of cultural attitudes in contemporary society. Benjamin’s insights into matters such as the status of photographic representation in media networks of communication and the changes effected by mechanical reproduction had on our perception of artworks were prophetic and thought-provoking, but his writings at the time were not the canonical texts that they have become today (Elkins 2003; Jennings et al. 2008). Benjamin and the revolutionary avant-gardes are now widely known in retrospect. Avant-garde strands of critical practice from the 1920s, now almost a century past, are a vital part of the mythology of print culture today, but it would be misleading to consider these in isolation from the many and diverse examples of photomechanical reproduction that were freely circulating elsewhere in print by around 1900. In popular journalism the adoption of photomechanical half-tone images as illustrations accompanied changes in marketing, content and design strategies. Photographs were ‘news’; for example, the Daily Mirror ran a full-page image of stricken bystanders hearing of the loss of the Titanic on 22 April 1912, used to give a sense of immediacy and the raw ‘facts’ of an event, but displacing text spaces of comment, argumentation and analysis. Decisions to use photographic illustrations were accompanied by different kinds of campaigns to persuade viewers that photographs were good visual testimony.