|Venetian Canal (1894) by Alfred Stieglitz|
|The Flatiron (1904) by Edward Steichen|
The birth of late-19th century Pictorialism was driven by many technological and social factors; of these, two major developments in the evolution of photography in the 19th century stand out.
At the same time, many artists feared the replacement of painting. Paul Delaroche was one of the most successful academic artists of the mid-19th-century French Salon Realism. Delaroche is reported to have said "From today, painting is dead" upon first seeing examples of the Dagurreotype process invented by Louis Daguerre in France in 1839. Indeed, painters of miniature portraits lost; in 1830 the Royal Academy in London exhibited over 300 miniatures; by 1870 only thirty-three. The Cartes-de-visite were small visiting card photographic portraits (usually measuring 4 1/2 x 2 1/2") which became immensely successful in the 1860's, selling by the millions, and spawning a huge commercial industry in production and support.
The introduction of the roll-film camera meant the loss of complexity in the photographic process. Consider this timeline:
1878 - George Eastman was one of the first to demonstrate the great convenience of gelatin dry plates over the cumbersome and messy wet plate photography prevalent in his day. Dry plates could be exposed and developed at the photographer's convenience; wet plates had to be coated, exposed at once, and developed while still wet, hence, the horse-drawn field darkroom:
|Wagons and camera of Sam A. Cooley,|
U.S. photographer, Department of the South
Between 1860 and 1865 [Library of Congress]
- Kodak Camera of 1888
- expose 100 Frames, send camera to Kodak
- Kodak develops film and returns prints and the camera reloaded
- "You press the button, we do the rest."
- 1/25 second exposure
1891 - The company marketed its first daylight-loading camera, which meant that the photographer could now reload the camera without using a darkroom.
(Source: Eastman Kodak)
Photography was now in the hands of everyone. The reaction of some photographers was to adopt new techniques to counter both the overly mechanical and too accurate view of photography, and the fact that painting enjoyed a much higher status than this new mechanistic process. So was born the desire to make photography more "painterly".
These artistic photographers, or Pictorialists as they came to be called, used many techniques to achieve their stylistic ends, such as the use of multiple image printing, heavy manipulation of negatives, soft-focus, and the use of techniques such as gum bichromate printing and post-tinting, all of which were intended to lower the detail and produce a more artistic image. Many of these techniques were difficult and complex, thereby running counter to the ease-of-use of the snap-shooters of the day.
In an effort to be artistic, many Pictorialists chose to resemble the art of their day-- Impressionism-- in both subject matter and to some extent in visual style.
"In effect, the term Pictorialism is used to describe photographs in which the actual scene depicted is of less importance than the artistic quality of the image. Pictorialists would be more concerned with the aesthetics and, sometimes, the emotional impact of the image, rather than what actually was in front of their camera." (from A History of Photography © Robert Leggat, 1996.)
Parallels with The New Pictorialism will be the subject of a future post. Stay tuned...
|Elias Goldensky, (American, 1867-1943). Portrait of three women, ca. 1915. Platinum print.|