History of Photography



Introduction  
History of Photography

A World History of Photography

The Story Behind the Pictures 1827-1991

Photographers' Dictionary










 

 



Chapter 5

 



PHOTOGRAPHY AND ART:


 

THE FIRST PHASE


 

1839-1890


 


Artistic Photography

With works of art in all media attracting the interest of the urban bourgeoisie during the second half of the 19th century, critics became more vocal in their exhortations to photographers as well as painters to select themes and treatments that not only would delineate situations naturalistically but would also embody uplifting sentiments. Especially in England, articles and papers read before the professional photographic societies as well as reviews of annual and special exhibitions translated traditional precepts of art into huffy "dos and don'ts" for photographers. The demand that photographs be at once truthful, beautiful, and inspirational influenced the making of still Iifes, genre scenes, portraits of models in allegorical costume, and finally, composite images that aimed to compete with the productions of "high art." To overcome the sharp definition decried by some as being too literal for art, photographers were urged to use slower collodion or inferior optical elements, to smear the lens or kick the tripod during exposure, or to blur the print during processing.

Efforts to transcend the litcralness of the lens without aping too closely the conventions of graphic art were most successful in France. As a consequence of their art training, the several painters associated with Delaroche who became adept at the calotype process around 1850 understood the importance of "effect"—a treatment that involved the suppression of excess detail. For example, in Young Girl Seated with a Basket (pi. no. 256), Negre concentrated the light on the head, hands, and basket rim purposefully leaving the texture of wall and background indistinct. His choice of subject—an Italian peasant in France—derived from the painting tradition that counted Murillo and Bonvin among its advocates and conformed to the idea that lower-class themes were acceptable in art as long as they were treated picturesquely. This concept also had inspired Hill and Adamson in their photographs of the fishcrfolk of Newhaven (see Chapters 2 and 8) and William Collie in his calotypes of rural folk on the Isle of Jersey.

While a variant of this theme appealed to Baron Humbert de Molard, a founding member of the Societe Frangaise de Photographic who posed gamekeepers, hunters (pi. no. 257) milkmaids, and shepherds against real or reconstituted rural backgrounds, genre scenes generally were made less frequently in France than in England and the United States, where a taste for narrative content was explicit. Still another variety of posed imagery involving humble pursuits used more sophisticated settings and pas-times, as in an 1850 calotype, Chess Game (pi. no. 258) by Alois Locherer; later German examples of the same type in collodion were called Lebende Bilder (Living Pictures) be-cause they portrayed costumed models, often artists and students, posing as knights, literary figures, or as wellknown painting subjects. These genre images with their artistic intent should not be confused with the posed portraits of men and women in ethnic costume meant as souvenirs for tourists or as reflections of nationalistic aspirations among middle-Europeans who had not yet established political identities.
 

256. CHARLES NEGRE. Young Girl Seated with a Basket, 1852.
Salt print. Collection Andre Jammes, Paris; National Gallerv of Canada, Ottawa.


CHARLES NEGRE  (see collection)
 

257. HUMBERT DE MOLARD. The Hunters, 1851. Calotype.
Societe Franchise de Photographic, Paris

258. ALOIS LOCHERER. Chess Game, c. 1850.
Calotype. Gernsheim Collection, Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin.

259. HERMANN KRONE. Still Life of the Washerwoman, 1853.
Albumen print. Deutsches Museum, Munich.

Before discussing the irruption of storytelling imagery that characterized English photography during the collodion era, the photographic still life as an acceptable artistic theme should be mentioned. Tabietop arrangements of traditional materials—fruit, crockery, statuary, subjects that had appealed to Daguerre and Talbot as well as to conventional painters—continued to attract photographers on the continent during the calotype and collodion eras. While these arrangements also made it possible for photographers to study the effects of light on form, the conventions of still life painting appear at times to have been transferred to silver with little change in style and iconography (pi. no. 260); other works, exemplified by Krone's Still Life of the Washerwoman (pi. no. 259), are captivating because they embrace less conventional objects.

Arrangements of flowers, which at first might seem to be singularly unsuitcd to a monochromatic medium, were successfully photographed perhaps because in some cases the images were regarded as documents rather than purely as artistic expressions. In the early 1850s, close-up studies of leaves, blossoms, and foliage arranged by Adolphe Braun in formal and casual compositions were highly praised for their intrinsic artistry as well as their usefulness (pi. no. 261); these prints may have inspired Eugene Chauvigne and Charles Aubry, among others, to attempt similar themes. In the dedication to Studies of Leaves (pi no. 262), Aubry wrote that they were made to "facilitate the study of nature" in order to "increase... productivity in the industrial arts." Nevertheless, other flower still lifes by the same artist included skulls and props, suggesting that he also wished them to be comparable to painted counterparts, although the simple arrangements and crisp detailing of foliage in the studies suggests that his work was most orig-inal when not competing with paintings of similar themes. But, as always, there are exceptions. A group of large-format "after-the-hunt" still lifes by Eraun (pi, no. 263), portraying arrangements of hung game, waterfowl, and hunting paraphernalia, successfully emulated works of graphic art that had been popular with painters of Northern Europe for two centuries. That painters and photographers both drew upon a common tradition can be seen in an oil painting (pi, no. 264) of the same theme by Valentin Gottfried, who worked near Strasbourg in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. For his images, Braun printed collodion negatives of approximately 23 x 30 inches on thin tissue, using the carbon process to achieve a broad range of delicate tones (see A Short Technical History, Parti). After-the-hunt scenes similar in size and generally less complex in arrangement were made also by Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond, Fenton (pi. no. 260), William Lake Price, Louise Laffon, Charles Philippe Auguste Carey (pi. no. 265), and others, but the difficulties of transcribing this theme from painting to photography is apparent in the many cluttered compositions and lack of saving gracefulness.
 

260. ROGER FENTON. Still Life of Fruit, c. 1860.
Albumen print. Royal Photographic Society, Bath, England.


ROGER FENTON  (see collection)
 

261. ADOLPHE BRAUN. Flower Study, c. 1855.
Modem gelatin silver print. Private collection.

262. CHARLES AUBRY. Leaves, 1864.
Albumen print. J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

263. ADOLPHE BRAUN. Stil lLife with Deer and Wildfowl, C. 1865.
Carbon print. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; David Hunter McAlpin Fund, 1947.

264. VALENTIN GOTTFRIED. Hunt Picture, late 17th-early 18th century.
Oil on canvas. Musee des Beaux-Arts, Strasbourg, France.

265. CHARLES PHILIPPE AUGUSTE CAREY. Still Life with Waterfowl, c. 1873.
Albumen print. Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris.


Composite Photography

Convinced that visual art should uplift and instruct, some English photographers specialized in producing reenacted narratives synthesized in the darkroom, an enterprise known as combination printing. By staging tableaux and then piecing together separate images to form a composition, photographers were able to choose agreeable models and control the narrative content of die work. The technique was adopted briefly—with unfortunate results to be discussed shortly—by Rejlander, but its high esteem during the 1860s was die result of the tireless efforts of Robinson, who saw himself both as a theoretician with a mission to elevate photography and as a practitioner. He wrote numerous articles and eleven books on aesthetics and techniques, several of which were translated into French and German. His first and most widely read work, Pictorial Effect in Photography, Being Hints on Composition and Chiaroscuro for Photographers, of 1869, emphasized traditional artistic principles of pictorial unity and concluded with a chapter on combination printing.

However, Rejlander was the first to make imaginative use of combination printing despite what some may consider the flawed judgment that led him in 1857—two years after his first attempt—to work on a major opus entitled Two Ways of Life (pi. no. 253). At least five versions existed of this large bathetic composition (31 x 16 inches) formed from some 30-odd separate negatives posed for by 16 professional and other models. Loosely based on Raphael's School of Athens fresco, it represents an allegory of the choice between good and evil (also between work and idleness) that was meant to compete thematically and stylistically with the paintings and photographs entered in the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857, and, incidentally, to serve as a sampler of photographic figure studies for artists. With such vaunting, if disparate ambitions, it is little wonder that despite the seal of approval from Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who purchased a version, critics termed it unsuccessful as allegory; works of "high art," they claimed, should not be executed by "mechanical contrivances." When exhibited in Edinburgh in 1858, the partially nude figures were covered over while a discussion ensued as to whether or not the work was lascivious. Reacting to the criticism, Rejlander deplored "the sneering and overbearing manner in which . . . [critics] assign limits to our power," but he refrained from further grandiose compositions. Though sentimental at times. Rcjlander's less ambitious combination prints—Hard Times (pi. no. 266) with its social and surreal overtones is one example—and his many posed figure pieces, including studies of workers, are among the thematically and visually more interesting works of this nature.

After seeing Rejlander's work, Robinson, a fellow painter-turned-photographer who had started as a portraitist but had set his sights on a higher purpose, adopted combination printing. Claiming that "a method that will not admit of modifications of the artist cannot be art," he first worked out preliminary sketches (pi. no. 267) into which the photographic parts were fitted in the manner of a puzzle or patchwork quilt. Fading Away (pi. no. 268), his inaugural effort created from five different negatives—also acquired by the royal couple—was praised for "exquisite sentiment" by some and criticized as morbid by others. Though Robinson avoided such emotion-laden subjects again, for 30 or so years he continued to mix the "real with the artificial," as he described it, using models "trained to strict obedience" in order to produce scenes agreeable to a public that esteemed engravings after the genre paintings of Sir David Wilkie and Thomas Faed.
 

266. OSCAR GUSTAV REJLANDER. Hard Times, 1860.
Albumen print. International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, Rochester, N.Y.


OSCAR GUSTAV REJLANDER  (see collection)
 

267. HENRY PEACH ROBINSON. Preliminary Sketch with Photo Inserted, c. 1860.
Albumen print and pastel collage on paper. Gernsheim Collection. Humanities Research Center, University of Texas. Austin.

268. HENRY PEACH ROBINSON. Fading Away, 1858.
Albumen composite print. Royal Photographic Society, Bath, England.


HENRY PEACH ROBINSON   (see collection)

(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Henry Peach Robinson (born July 9, 1830 in Ludlow, Shropshire - died February 21, 1901) was an English Pictorialist photographer best known for his pioneering of combination printing - joining multiple negatives to form a single image, the precursor to photomontage. According to his letters, he was influenced by the paintings of J.M.W. Turner.
Robinson was the eldest of the four children of John Robinson, a Ludlow schoolmaster, and his wife Eliza. He was educated at Horatio Russell's academy in Ludlow until he was thirteen, when he took a year's drawing tuition with Richard Penwarne before being apprenticed to a Ludlow bookseller and printer, Richard Jones.
While continuing to study art, his initial career was in bookselling, in 1850 working for the Bromsgrove bookseller Benjamin Maund, then in 1851 for the London-based Whittaker & Co. In 1852 he exhibited an oil painting, On the Teme Near Ludlow, at the Royal Academy. That same year he began taking photographs, and five years later, following a meeting with the photographer Hugh Welch Diamond, decided to devote himself to that medium, in 1855 opening a studio in Leamington Spa, selling portraits.
In 1859 he married Selina Grieves, daughter of a Ludlow chemist, John Edward Grieves.
In 1864, at the age of thirty-four, Robinson was forced to give up his studio due to ill-health from exposure to toxic photographic chemicals. Relocating to London, Robinson kept up his involvement with the theroetical side of photography, writing the influential essay Pictorial Effect in Photography, Being Hints on Composition and Chiaroscuro for Photographers, published in 1868. Around this time his health had improved sufficiently to open a new studio in Tunbridge Wells with Nelson King Cherrill, and in 1870 he become vice-president of the Photographic Society.
The partnership with Cherrill dissolved in 1875, Robinson continuing the business until his retirement in 1888. Following internal disputes within the Photographic Society, he resigned in 1891 to become one of the early members of the rival Linked Ring society, in which he was active until 1900, when he was also elected an honorary member of the Royal Photographic Society.
He died and was buried in Tunbridge Wells in early 1901.


HENRY PEACH ROBINSON. A Holiday in the Wood


Narrative, Allegorical, and Genre Images

The precepts that photographic art should deal with suitable themes, that the image be judiciously composed and sharply defined, dominated the theoretical ideas of a generation of amateur photographers in England. Among them, William Grundy specialized in what the French publication La Lumicre called "a peculiar type of rustic humor" (pi. no. 270) while Price, a watercolorist and author of a popular manual on artistic photography, produced besides landscapes and still lifes, literary' figure pieces of which Don Quixote (pi. no. 269) is an example. Though some critics denounced this kind of photography as inadequate for conveying moral messages, theatrically contrived literary and allegorical subjects continued to appeal, as can be seen in Silvy's portraits of a middle-class sitter, Mrs. Leslie, garbed in the mantle of truth (pi. no. 271). In its concentration on narrative, its avoidance of sensuous and atmospheric effects, its preference for sharp definition, the work of the English Pictorial photographers of die 1860s and '70s mimics effects and themes found in both Pre-Raphaelite and academic paintings.

A different concept of photographic aesthetics informed literary and allegorical images by Julia Margaret Cameron (see Profile, Chapter 2), whose purpose fully out-of-focus technique was derided by Robinson as inexcusable. Cameron drew upon an extensive knowledge of the Bible and English literature for her themes, using the same props, draperies, and models time and again. The Rising of the New Tear (pi. no. 82), one of many images using the children of her friends and servants, reflects the ideas of her artistic mentor, the painter George Frederic Watts, whose great admiration for the themes ( Renaissance art communicated itself to the photographer through his canvases, writings, and close friendship Cameron's intuitive empathy as well as her understanding that light can mystify and illuminate invests these tableaux with more interest than their derivative subject matter deserves. Imaginative handling of tonal contrast characterizes the large body of work produced by Clementina, Lady Hawarden, whose posed and costurned figures (pi no. 272) reveal an ardent sensuality different from that seen in Cameron's narrative works.

Picturesque genre images were made in Italy for the tourist trade rather than as examples of high art. Most were contrived reenactments, similar in theme and treatment to the theatrical vignettes staged in the Naples studio of Giorgio Sommer. Given titles like The Spaghetti Eaters or Shoeshine and Pickpocket (pi. no. 273), they were supposedly humorous reminders of what travelers from the north might expect to find in Italian cities. Staged and unstaged images of bucolic peasant and street life, produced by the Alinari brothers in Florence and by Carlo Naya in Venice, were intended for tourists who wished to point out to the folks back home both the simple pleasures and sharp practices one might expect when visiting Italy. Naya, a well-educated dilettante who at first regarded photography- as a curiosity rather than a livelihood, eventually was considered by his contemporaries to have "transformed this art into an important industry while retaining its aesthetic character." In effect, by posing the beadworkers, beggars, and street vendors of Venice against real and studio backgrounds, he transformed social reality into mementos for tourists (pi no. 274).
 

269. WILLIAM LAKE PRICE. Don Quixote in His Study, c. 1890.
Albumen print. Gcrnsheim Collection, Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin.

270. WILLIAM GRUNDY. A Day's Shooting, c. 1857.
Albumen print. BBC Hulton Picture Library/Bettmann Archive.

271. CAMILLE SILVY. Mrs. John Leslie as Truth, March 16, 1861.
Albumen print. National Portrait Gallery, London.

272. CLEMENTINA, LADY HAWARDEN. Young Girl with Mirror Reflection, 1860s.
Albumen print. Victoria and Albert Museum, London

273. GIORGIO SOMMER. Shoeshine and Pickpocket, 1865-70.
Albumen print. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Abbott Lawrence Fund.

274. CARLO NAYA. Children on a Fish Weir, Venice, c. 1870s.
Albumen print. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Abbott Lawrence Fund.


Artistic Photography in the United States

"The sharp contest going on abroad between advocates of painting and photography" was less engaging to most Americans. A number of photographers—among them, George N. Barnard, Gabriel Harrison, Alexander Hcslcr, and John Moran—were convinced that both media spoke the same language and addressed the same sentiments; but even though they were concerned with photography as art, the prevailing climate was one of indifference to theoretical issues. This probably was due to the low esteem for die arts in general in America, to the continued success of commercial daguerreotyping long after its eclipse in Europe, and to the upheaval caused by the Civil War. The situation began to change toward the end of the 1860s, largely through the urging of publications such as the Philadelphia Photographer that photographers give greater consideration to photographic aesthetics.

On the other hand, painters in die United States were not in the least hesitant about using photographs in their work. Agreeing with Samuel F. B. Morse's judgment of the medium as a utilitarian tool that would supply "rich materials . . . an exhaustive store for the imagination to feed upon . . . [and] would bring about a new standard in art," portrait and genre painters began to copy from photographs soon after the daguerreotype was introduced. The lucrative business of enlarging and transferring photo-graphic portraits to canvas, mentioned in Chapter 2, continued, but even before the Civil War, landscape painters— including Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Cole, and Frederic E. Church—also welcomed the photograph as an ally. It served landseapists particularly well in their endeavors to represent scientific fact animated by heavenly inspiration— a visual concept reflective of Ralph Waldo Emerson's New World philosophy of the divinity of the native landscape. In terms of style, the stereograph was especially important. Contemporary critics noted the minutely detailed foregrounds, misty' panoramic backgrounds, and powerful illusion of depth in the work of Church and Bierstadt, the two most renowned painters of their era. These effects are exactly those of the stereograph image seen on a much reduced scale through the viewing device. Furthermore, references in Church's diaries and the evidence of a large collection of photographs found in his studio reinforce the suspicion that this painter, along with many others, collected stereographs and regular-format photographs for information and, at times, to paint over. Also, between 1850 and 1880, artists explored the West and the Northeast in the company of photographers, resulting in an opportunity for interchange of ideas and images that affected both media.

Curiously, American photographers did not at first manifest the widespread interest in genre themes apparent in painting at mid-century. Individual daguerreotypists who were determined to rescue the medium from what they called "Broadway operators" arranged mundane, sentimental, and allegorical subjects. Three Pets (pi. no. 275), a daguerreotype by Hesler, which was awarded a gold medal at the 1851 London Great Exhibition and then reproduced as a crystallotypc in American Photography and Fine Art Journal, is an example of the sentimental subjects chosen by this individual to demonstrate the artistic possibilities of the medium. In concert with Marcus Aurelius Root and Henry Hunt Snelling (early critics and historians of the medium), Hesler urged photographers to interest them-selves in something more than paltry gain.

A similar motive prompted Harrison, a prominent New York daguerreotypist, to improve his compositions by studying the works of European and American painters. In selecting allegorical subjects such as Past, Present and Future (pi. no. 276), this friend of Walt Whitman, who furnished the portrait of the poet for the frontispiece of Leaves of Grass, hoped to show that photographs could reflect "merit, taste and a little genius," that they might embody the unifying thread of human experience that he perceived in the poetry. According to the Photographic Art Journal, Harrison's images on metal were eagerly collected by contemporary painters in New York, but even this recognition was insufficient to sustain him in his pursuit of art photography.

Aside from these examples, posed genre compositions and combination printing were not widely favored in the United States at this time owing to both the general distrust of mannerism in the arts and the firm conviction that the camera should not tamper with reality. The Philadelphia Photographer may have believed that such practices would improve the quality of photographic expression, but the more common view, enunciated by Holmes, was that composite images were "detestable—vulgar repetitions of vulgar models, shamming grace, gentility and emotion by the aid of costumes, attitudes, expressions and accessories." Indeed, this enthusiastic realist was scornful of any kind of hand manipulation on photographs; his preference for the stereograph to other formats was in part because it was too small for retouching.

Genre photographs became more acceptable after the Civil War, but the most proficient producer was the Canadian William Notman. His Montreal studio was claimed to be "all alone in this branch of photography on our side of the water," and was outfitted with a full complement of properties and a wind machine for creating the illusion of snowy outdoor climate and landscape, as in Caribou Hunting: The Return of the Party (pi. no. 277). Both Notman and James Inglis, also of Montreal, were among the very few who made composite images using methods akin to those of Rejlander and Robinson in that they pasted prints into place and retouched and rephotographed them to form compositions such as Inglis's Victorian Rifles (pi. no. 278) of 1870, truly a pastiche of handwork and photochemical processes.

Holmes's repudiation notwithstanding, stereograph format and genre themes were made for each other. By the 1860s, when many painters were turning away from narrative and sentimental subjects, publishers of stereographs were discovering the public taste for pictures of love, death, domestic tribulation, and rustic humor—a taste that formerly had been satisfied by lithographic prints as well as works in oil. Since these images were considered popular entertainment rather than "high art"—in effect, forerunners of the situation comedies and dramas of television— viewers did not fault the stiff postures, exaggerated perspective, or absence of atmosphere. Made in Europe also, most notably by the London Stereograph Company and the German firm of Loescher and Petsch, their chief appeal was in the United States where it was said that no parlor was without a stereoscope.

Large-scale manufacturers, notably the Weller and Mclcnder companies, produced a considerable portion of the genre subjects in the United States before 1890, but local photographers turned out a variety of such images, often stressing regional characteristics. An exceptionally popular subject—one that figured also in regular-format photographs of the time, was the "spirit" image. Dealing with some aspect of the supernatural, as in The Haunted Lane (pi. no. 279) published in 1880 by L. M. Melendcr and Brother, these pictures were made by allowing the model for the "spirit" to leave the scene before exposure was completed and by resorting to complicated techniques. They were taken seriously by many photographers and appealed to the same broad audience for whom seances, Ouija boards, and spiritualism seemed to provide a release from the pressures caused by urbanization and industrialization.
 

275. ALEXANDER HESLER. Three Pets, c. 1851.
Crystalotype from original daguerreotype in Photographic and Fine Arts Journal, April, 1854.
International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, Rochester, N.Y.

276. GABRIEL HARRISON. Past, Present, Future, c. 1854.
Crystalotype. International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, Rochester, N.Y.

277. WILLIAM NOTMAN. Canbou Hunting: The Return of the Party, 1866.
Albumen print. Notman Photographic Archives, McCord Museum, McGill University, Montreal.

278. JAMES INGLIS. Victorian Rifles, 1870. Composite albumen print; painting by W. Lorenz.
Notman Photographic Archives, McCord Museum, McGill University, Montreal.

279. L. M. MELENDER and BROTHER. The Haunted Lane, c. 1880.
One-half of an albumen stereograph. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

 

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