October 13, 2022

Deep Dive Into Pictorialism

By 1605 Publishers
Art, Inspiration, Photography

"Pictorialism is a photographic technique which suggests that although the photograph might not be staged at the moment it was taken, it was certainly altered after."

Pictorial photographers: Ogawa Kazumasa, Edward Steichen, Alfred Stieglitz, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Rose Clark, Gertrude Käsebier

The movement thrived from about 1885 to 1915 and was still being promoted by some as late as the 1940s. It began in response to claims that a photograph was nothing more than a simple record of reality, and transformed into a movement to advance the status of all photography as a true art form.

The aesthetics of the pictorial photograph are: soft-focus, light blur and similar features that mimic a brushstrokes on a painting. Pictorialists, like for example, one of the representatives of this movement, Edward Steichen, were transforming in some way boring documentary photography into real art. Some of the techniques were manipulations in the darkroom, printing on a rough-surface paper and etching - scratching the surface of the photograph with needles to show the artistic signature.

Gertrude Keiser

Some assume that pictorialists were going for the imitation of the real event. However, not the imitation, but a transformation is the most suitable term when it comes to the technique's exact description. The followers of the movement, emphasised the individual expression over the technical aspect of photography and thrived to "record an emotional and aesthetic response to space, light, and shadow". By manipulating the appearance of images through  processes such as gum or bromoil printing, pictorialists were able to create unique photographs that were sometimes mistaken for drawings or lithographs.

Until today, Pictoroliasm is a symbol of slow photography and a synonym for a real artistic expression. Since its first appearance, it has become a counter movement to point-and-shoot cameras and commercial mass production of photographs by the companies like Kodak. 

Baron Adolph de Meyer

In 1892 Alfred Stieglitz established a group he called the Photo-Secession in New York. He hand-picked the members of the group who were all pictorial photographers and whose vision was aligned with his. Among them Gertrude Käsebier, Eva Watson-Schütze, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Edward Steichen, and Joseph Keiley.

Stieglitz also continually promoted pictorialism through two publications he edited, Camera Notes and Camera Work and by establishing and running a gallery in New York that for many years exhibited only pictorial photographers - the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession.

Alfred Stieglitz

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