Pictorialism

 

In the late 1800s, a group of photographers, who eventually became known as Pictorialists, sought to differentiate their artistic work from amateurs' snapshots. They altered their images by hand scratching the negatives and using brushes to soften and blur parts of the photographs during the printing process. The Pictorialist's main concern was not their subjects but, rather, to ensure photography was a viable art form.

By this time, the novelty of capturing images was beginning to fade, and many were now questioning whether the camera was in fact extremely accurate and detailed. This, in addition with the fact that painting enjoyed a much higher status than this new mechanical process, cause some photographers to look for new techniques that, as they saw it, could make photography more of an art form.

The term Pictorialism is used to describe photographs in which the actual scene shown, is of less importance than the artistic quality of the image. For Pictorialists the aesthetics and, the emotional impact of the image, was much more important than what was in front of the camera.

To accomplish their task, the Pictorialists used different techniques:

· Combination printing (from several negatives)

·The use of soft focus in the camera,

·The manipulation of the negative (scratching or painting over the negative)

 ·Gum bichromate, which greatly lessened the detail and produced a more artistic image.

Henry Peach Robinson was a pioneer of pictorialist photography, and one of the greatest photographers of his time. His most famous photograph is “Fading Away”, is a composition of five negatives, in which he shows a young girl dying of tuberculosis surrounded by her family. It was very controversial, because many felt that it was acceptable for the painters to approach this kind of tragic and intimate moments, but it was not appropriate for a photographer to do so.

Henry Peach Robinson
 
Fading Away” (1858)

 The introduction of the first amateur camera by Kodak, in 1888, changed photography forever; George Eastman made photography accessible to millions of people with no technical knowledge, or artistic background. Ten years later, more than 1.5 million roll-film cameras had reached the hands of the American public.

 A small group of photographers who believed that photography was not a scientific curiosity, but an art, adopted some labor-intensive processes like platinum printing, which involved hand-coating papers with homemade emulsions and pigments, and produced rich, and delicate images. The most prominent representative of these photographers in the US was Alfred Stieglitz, who spent his life fighting for the recognition of photography as a medium as capable of artistic expression as painting or sculpture.

Stieglitz was not only a pioneer photographer, but also an editor and gallery owner. He and other photographers who shared his conviction founded a group called the Photo-Secession, which advocated an emphasis on the craftsmanship involved in photography.

 
 

The Terminal, 1892
Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864–1946)
Photogravure; 4 3/4 x 6 5/16 in. (12.1 x 16 cm)
Gift of J. B. Neumann, 1958 (58.577.11)

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