Pictorialism (or pictorialism - in the special literature you can find two spelling variations) was an aesthetic movement, whose adherents strove for a pictorial (pictorial, imitative painting) photographic image. In the works of pictorialist photographers, the influence of Austrian symbolism, English pre-Raphaelism, German art nouveau, French art deco and especially impressionism is noticeable, therefore pictorialism is sometimes called photo impressionism.
Pictorialism has opened for photography various methods of printing images, the so-called noble techniques (the common name for the pigment and bromo oil techniques). The bromo oil process (Bromoil) consisted in additional processing of positive printed on bromo silver photo paper. The essence of the process consisted in bleaching the image and simultaneously tanning the photographic material with biochromats, followed by applying the desired color of oil paint to the stubbed sections.
O'Keeffe Hands and Thimble. Photo by Alfred Stiglitz, 1919 © [Alfred Stieglitz / 2000 George Eastman House, Rochester, NY] ( http://www.eastman.org )
The Flatiron. Photo by Edward Steichen, 1904 © Edward Steichen / 2000–2007 The Metropolitan Museum of Art
With the advent of the new method, photographers were able to apply light-sensitive silver salts with a brush. Photos after such processing resembled drawings made by charcoal or watercolor. Pigment printing (chromogenic print) brought the photograph closer to the engraving. To obtain color (pigment) images, a special pigment paper was used, poured with a gelatin layer containing finely ground water-insoluble dye.
Pictorialists used soft-focusing lenses, which provide images of reduced contrast by reducing their sharpness, and monocles, which made it possible to convey air haze, sea distance with greater freedom, to give a vague picture.
European pictorial photographers sought to raise the painting to the level of high art. The activities of many famous painters were associated with photographic clubs. English photographer Alexander Keighley was one of the founders and most famous member of The Linked Ring photo club, established in London in 1892. Cagley has been engaged in light painting for many years and during this time created outstanding examples of pictorial photography. He, like many pictorialists, sought to create some idealized world, and this partly determines the choice of his subjects. Cagley's favorite motifs are the romantic ruins of ancient temples, pastoral landscapes of the countryside, forest glades flooded with streams of sunlight.
Dance Study. Photo by František Drtikol, Prague 1926 © František Drtikol
Venezia. Photo by Dragomir Joseph Ruzicki, 1920-1930s © Drahomír Josef R?ži?ka / Galerie AmbrosianA
An unrivaled master of pictorial photography in France was Robert Demachy. Demashi proved to be a wonderful portrait painter, the picturesque solution of his photographs subtly conveys the character of the model. In his works, the line between photography and painting is erased: bold, wide strokes frame the figures of people, swirl around them with a swirl of strokes. To create such effects, Demashi applied a special retouch: he scraped areas of too dense places on the negative. He also introduced the practice of transferring oil images from gelatin paper to Japanese, which gave the image the character of a graphic work.
What French and English pictorialists could not fully realize, namely, to achieve recognition of photography as a form of fine art, was done by American masters of light painting Clarence H. White, Edward Steichen and Alfred Stiglitz. In 1902, Stiglitz created the Photo-Session group. At the same time, he began to publish the illustrated journal Camera Work, dedicated to photography, and in 1905 opened the 291 Gallery on Fifth Avenue in New York. Along with photographs, paintings by A. Matisse, O. Renoir, P. Cezanne, E. Manet, P. Picasso, J. Braque, D. O'Keeffe, sculptures by O. Rodin and C. Brancusi were exhibited. Light painting has taken an equal place among the visual arts not only in the exhibition space, but also in relation to critics and the public.
Spring Showers. Photo by Alfred Stiglitz, 1901 © [Alfred Stieglitz / 2000 George Eastman House, Rochester, NY] ( http://www.eastman.org )
Une Balleteuse. Photo by Robert Demachy, 1900 © Robert Demachy / 2000–2007 The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Sunday afternoon on Kolin Island. Photo by Joseph Sudek, 1924-1926 © Josef Sudek / Anna Fárová
Despite the fact that Stiglitz’s early photographs were in a pictorial style, he never used the means of artistic processing of pictures that pictorialists usually used. Only in some cases, such as when creating a Spring Showers snapshot, did he use soft-focusing optics. Stiglitz has repeatedly experimented with various photographic techniques. For example, when creating a photo of O'Keeffe Hands and Thimble, he achieved the solarization of the image (at the border between the dark background and hands), maximizing the exposure.
Creativity Edward Steichen (Edward Steichen) is difficult to attribute to any specific direction. A wide range of subjects (landscape, portrait, advertising photography ...) and a variety of techniques put his work among the best works created not only in the pictorial style. But the early photographs of Steichen undoubtedly belong to the heritage of pictorialism. Critics compared the photograph of The Flatiron with The Nocturnes by the American painter D. Whistler. In Steichen’s photograph, the same gentle color of the city dissolving in the evening twilight , the golden lights of lanterns reflected in the pavement shining from the rain ...
Morning tram. Photo by Joseph Sudek, 1924 © Josef Sudek / Anna Fárová
The Ring Toss. Photo by Clarence White, 1899 © Clarence H. White / 2000–2007 The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Towards the end of World War II, Stiglitz and Steichen moved away from pictorialism and turned to “clean” photography. A friend of Stiglitz and one of the founders of the Photo-Session, Clarence Holland White, continued to create pictures in a picturesque style even after the war, when pictorialism was already declining. In 1916, together with Gertrude Käsbier, he founded the American Society of Pictorialist Photographers, which, however, did not find a large number of supporters among his contemporaries. The staged shots of White and Casiber seemed to belong to a different era, the traditions of 19th-century painting.
Of the representatives of German pictorialism, it is worth mentioning the portrait photographer Hugo Erfurth. The photo of Knabenbildnis in Landschaft depicts a young man standing against a rural landscape. Erfurt remarkably conveys the psychological features of the model, the whole frame is as if infected with the energy of youth.
Pictorialism is the beginning of the creative career of the famous Czech photographer František Drtikol. Drtikol studied photography in Munich, the birthplace of German Art Nouveau, which had a significant impact on his photographs. In the work of the master, a tendency to painting, drawing and graphics was manifested. Therefore, from the very beginning, he used a variety of pictorialist “noble” printing techniques that suppressed many of the characteristic features of the photo image and emphasized the possibility of author intervention in the final photograph.
Miss Mary and Lotte at the Hill Crest. Photo by Heinrich Kühn, 1910 © Heinrich Kühn / 2000–2007 The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Dayspring from on High. Photo by Alexander Keygley, 1890–1900s © Alexander Keighley / 2000–2007 The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo impressionism manifests itself in the early photographs of the classic Czech photograph Josef Sudek “Morning Tram” and “Morning Viaducts”. The first picture shows a tram passing through an arch extending beyond the top edge of the frame. Stream of light, resembling a triangle in shape, falls from the arch onto the pavement. Here, for the first time, Sudek's favorite motif appears - a diagonally incident stream of light. Later, moving away from pictorialism with its blurry forms, Sudek will fix the light not with a single stream, but with beams of light rays. Similar photographs were taken by the American photographer of Czech origin Dragomir Josef Ruzicka (Drahomír Josef R?ži?ka), from which, perhaps, he took the example of J. Sudek. Ruzicka, a student of C.H. White, was one of the founders of the American Society of Pictorialist Photographers. Like A. Stiglitz, he rejected manipulated printing and allowed only a softening of the optical pattern of the lens. In the photo of Ruzhichka “Station”, light diagonally incident from a small window (compared to the vast space of the train station room) falls onto the floor with light steps.
Blessed Art Thou among Women. Photo by Gertrude Casibir, 1899 © Gertrude Käsebier 2000–2007 The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Arabian Nude Study. Photo by František Drtikol, Prague 1912 © František Drtikol
Pictorialism was an echo of the 19th century. In the 1920s, the painting style gave way to more progressive avant-garde trends. Photographers who began as pictorialists in the second quarter of the 20th century continued their creative searches in other directions. Now their attention has focused on experimenting with camera angles and composition.
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