Phillip Prodger

prodger@quahog.org
Eugene photograph
Frank Eugene,Adam and Eve c.1910, photogravure, 18 x 13 cm.

For three decades at the turn of the twentieth century, Pictorial photographers produced some of the most spectacular pictures in the history of art. Sumptuous, richly colored landscapes; subtle, evocative portraits; elegant and poetic allegories — the best photographs of the period remain as fresh and original as when they were made. Pictorialists tried to make photographs that look like drawings, paintings, and watercolors. By imitating other media, they hoped their photographs would be accepted as works of art. At the same time, they saw themselves not as slavish imitators of tradition, but as creators of a new and distinctly modern world of visual expression.

From its origins in Europe, Pictorial photography spread throughout the world. Impressionist Camera, the catalogue for a major exhibition held at the Musée des Beaux Arts de Rennes and the Saint Louis Art Museum, chronicles the emergence of Pictorialism and how it shaped photographic practice. Written by a team of leading art historians, it is the first volume ever to examine the rise of one of photography's most important movements.

The early history of Pictorialism is one of struggle within established photography clubs, as avant-garde photographers in London, Vienna, Munich, and Berlin seceded from groups they found too conservative. This resulted in part from a massive increase in the number of practicing amateur photographers. In the 1880s, convenient new technologies such as Kodak cameras made it possible for people with little training to make photographs. Pictorialists reacted to the flood of new photographers by trying to redefine what makes an artistic photograph. They developed elaborate manipulations — combining and retouching negatives, altering the surface of the print, layering multiple emulsions on top of one another — to achieve artistic effects. The results were dazzling, and helped set the stage for the rise of modernism after the First World War.

Impressionist Camera has sections exploring Pictorialism in Britain, France, Germany, Spain, and Russia, and essays discussing Pictorialists' use of colour, the birth of Autochrome, amateurism, and exchanges between European and American pictorialists. Artists include Thomas Annan, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Robert Demachy, František Drtikol, Peter Henry Emerson, Frank Eugene, Theodor and Oskar Hofmeister, Heinrich Kuehn, Sergey Lobovikov, Léonard Misonne, Constant Puyo, Edward Steichen, Alfred Stieglitz and many others.


Phillip Prodger, Patrick Daum, and Francis Ribemont (eds.), Impressionist Camera: Pictorial Photography in Europe, 1888–1918, [London: Merrell, 2006], ISBN-13: 978-1858943312

[a French language edition is also available, and an audio tour of the exhibition, narrated by Phillip Prodger, can be downloaded at Audible.com]