In the earliest days of photography it took a mastery of optics, chemistry, and an arcane workflow to take and process a photograph using the cumbersome cameras of the time. To read more about this, see my post on Fox Talbot and Early Photography. This time-consuming hybrid discipline restricted photography to a small and skilled group of people.
The production of a vastly increased number of spontaneously shot, realistic but unremarkable ‘snapshot’ images, prompted a protracted public debate about whether photography could be considered to be art or was purely a utilitarian medium produced by a mechanical recording device. Inspired by Peter Henry Emerson’s book Naturalistic Photography (1889) and rejecting the notion of photography as solely a documentary medium, a small group of photographers set out to show that photography was indeed fine art. Some of the better known are Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946); Edward Steichen (1879-1973); Edward Weston (1886-1958); Paul Strand (1890-1976); Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79); Henry Peach Robinson (1830-1901); Peter Henry Emerson (1856-1936); Robert Demachy (1859-1936) and my personal favourite, the Belgian Leonard Misonne (1870-1943). These photographers formed clubs and salons such as The Linked Ring, Photo-Secession, The Royal Photographic Society and The Photo-Club of Paris and created a movement known as Pictorialism. Pictorialism was also the product of photography and the world of art coming closer together at the end of the nineteenth century. Artists such as Manet and Gauguin used photographs to capture images that would be rendered as paintings back in the studio, whilst some pictorialist photographers (such as Henry Peach Robinson) had been trained as painters. Continue reading “When Photos Looked Like Paintings – Pictorialism”