History of photography

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History of photography
Abbe James
Allen Albert
Bailey David

Beaton Cecil
Cunningham Imogen
Carroll Lewis
Drtikol Frantisek
Duhrkoop Rudolf
Eisenstaedt Alfred
Feininger  Andreas
Halsman Philippe
Heartfield John
Horst P. Horst
Kasebier Gertrude
Kirkland Douglas
Lartigue Jacques Henri
Laughlin Clarence John


Maar Dora
Man Ray

Miller Lee
Munkacsi Martin


Outerbridge Paul


Rodchenko Alexander
Skoglund Sandy
Smith William Eugene
Smith Rodney
Tabard Maurice
  Watson Albert
Photography as art


Photographic societies—made up of both professionals and amateurs enticed by the popularity of the collodion process—began to form in the mid-19th century, giving rise to the consideration of photography as an aesthetic medium. In 1853 the Photographic Society, parent of the present Royal Photographic Society, was formed in London, and in the following year the Société Française de Photographie was founded in Paris. Toward the end of the 19th century, similar societies appeared in German-speaking countries, eastern Europe, and India. Some were designed to promote photography generally, while others emphasized only artistic expression. Along with these organizations, journals promoting photography as art also appeared.

At the first meeting of the Photographic Society, the president, Sir Charles Eastlake (who was then also president of the Royal Academy), invited the miniature painter Sir William Newton to read the paper “Upon Photography in an Artistic View” (Journal of the Photographic Society, 1853). Newton’s argument was that photographs could be useful so long as they were taken “in accordance [as far as it is possible] with the acknowledged principles of Fine Art.” One way the photographer could make his results more like works of art, Newton suggested, was to throw the subject slightly out of focus. He also recommended liberal retouching. (Eastlake’s wife, Lady Eastlake, née Elizabeth Rigby, was one of the first to write lucidly about the artistic problems of collodion/albumen photography.)

In response to this desire to create photographs that would fit an established conception of what “art” should be, several photographers began to combine several negatives to make one print. These consisted of compositions that were considered too complicated to be photographed in a straightforward manner and thus pushed photography beyond its so-called mechanical capabilities. A famous example of this style was by O.G. Rejlander, a Swede who had studied art in Rome and was practicing photography in England. He joined 30 negatives to produce a 31-by-16-inch (79-by-41-cm) print entitled The Two Ways of Life (1857), an allegory showing the way of the blessed led through good works and the way of the damned through vice. Rejlander, who described the technique in detail in photographic journals, stated that his purpose was to prove to artists the aesthetic possibilities of photography, which they had generally denied. The photograph was shown in the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857 and was purchased by Queen Victoria for Prince Albert.

Rejlander’s technique stimulated Henry Peach Robinson, a professional photographer who had been trained as an artist, to produce similar combination prints. He achieved fame with a five-negative print, Fading Away, produced in 1858. The subject, a dying girl, was considered by critics as too painful a subject to be represented by photography. Perhaps the implied authenticity of the camera bothered them, since painters had long presented subjects of a far more sensitive nature.

Robinson became an articulate member of the Photographic Society, and his teaching was even more influential than his photography. In 1869 the first of many editions and translations of his book, Pictorial Effect in Photography, was published. Robinson borrowed compositional formulas from a handbook on painting, claiming that use of them would bring artistic success. He stressed the importance of balance and the opposition of light against dark. At the core of his argument was the assumption that rules set up for one art form could be applied to another.

So long as photographers maintained that the way to photography as art was the emulation of painting, art critics were reluctant to admit the new medium to an independent aesthetic position. Portraits, when done as sensitively and as directly as those produced by Hill and Adamson, Nadar, and Cameron, won praise. But sentimental genre scenes, posed and arranged for the camera and lacking the truthfulness thought to be characteristic of photography, were the subject of considerable controversy. This debate would reach a crescendo at the end of the century.

Oscar Gustav Rejlander
O.G. Rejlander, in full Oscar Gustav Rejlander (born 1813, Sweden—died January 18, 1875, London, England), Swedish painter and photographer who is known as the “father of art photography.”

Rejlander received his general education in Sweden, and he studied painting and sculpture in Rome. After considerable travel he settled in England and from 1853 practiced photography there. Rejlander rejected contemporary conceptions of photography as a scientific or technical medium. In his efforts to elevate photography to the status of a fine art, he made photographs in imitation of painting. He looked to the example of the Old Masters for their use of composition and pose and often set up his own elaborate compositions in his studio. In many of his works he sought painterly effects by combining several negatives to make one print, with a resulting image that moved beyond the results achieved by straightforward photography. His most famous work, The Two Ways of Life (1857), was based on the background and arrangement of Raphael’s School of Athens (1509–11) and was created by combining more than 30 negatives. Shown in the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857, the photograph was purchased by Queen Victoria as a gift for Prince Albert. Rejlander was also well known for his ability to capture an emotion or sentiment in his work. A series of photographs of facial expressions and gestures made by Rejlander was used by Charles Darwin in his Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872).

Although he had a period of critical acclaim, Rejlander died impoverished. His influence extended for decades, however, as photographers began to debate the merits of Pictorialism, or the effort to achieve painterly effects, versus the value of more sharply detailed work.

Oscar Gustav Rejlander
Photograph of a young Hallam Tennyson, son of Alfred Tennyson

Henry Peach Robinson
Henry Peach Robinson, (born July 9, 1830, Ludlow, Shropshire, England—died February 21, 1901, Tunbridge Wells, Kent), English photographer whose Pictorialist photographs and writings made him one of the most influential photographers of the second half of the 19th century.

At age 21 Robinson was an amateur painter precocious enough to have one of his paintings hung at the Royal Academy in London. Photography, however, was his real passion. In 1857 he opened a photographic studio in Leamington, England. In addition to commercial portraiture, he began to make photographs that imitated the themes and compositions of the anecdotal genre paintings popular at the time. He created photographs such as Juliet with the Poison Bottle (1857), his earliest-known work, by combining separate negatives into a composite picture, utilizing a process known as combination printing. Although he sometimes used natural settings, he more often imitated the out-of-doors inside his studio. Costumed actors or society ladies modeled for his many bucolic scenes, since he found actual country people too awkward and dull to fit his ideal of the picturesque.

In 1858 Robinson exhibited Fading Away, a picture skillfully printed from five different negatives. This work depicted the peaceful death of a young girl surrounded by her grieving family. Although the photograph was the product of Robinson’s imagination, many viewers felt that such a scene was too painful to be tastefully rendered by such a literal medium as photography. The controversy, however, made him the most famous photographer in England and the leader of the Pictorialist movement, which advocated achieving painterly effects in photography.

Robinson’s subsequent works, such as The Lady of Shalott (1861) and Autumn (1863), were so widely admired that he published Pictorial Effect in Photography (1869), a handbook that for decades remained the most influential work in English on photographic practice and aesthetics. This work and essays by Robinson based on it were widely printed and translated, giving his aesthetic ideas great currency. In 1886, however, the book was violently attacked by the photographer Peter Henry Emerson, who argued that photographic images should never be altered after exposure and also decried Robinson’s practice of using costumed models and painted backdrops. Nevertheless, Robinson continued to receive official honours, and in 1892 he became a founding member of the Linked Ring, an association of prestigious art photographers.

Henry Peach Robinson
When the Day's Work is Done (1877). Combination print made from six different negatives.


"Is PHOTOGRAPHY ART?" may seem a pointless question today. Surrounded as we arc by thousands of photographs of even' description, most of us take for granted that in addition to supplying information and seducing customers, camera images also serve as decoration, afford spiritual enrichment, and provide significant insights into the passing scene. But in the decades following the discovery of photography, this question reflected the search for ways to fit the mechanical medium into the traditional schemes of artistic expression. Responses by photographers, which included the selection of appropriate themes and the creation of synthetic works, established directions that continue to animate photography today. And while some photographers used the camera to emulate the subjects and styles of "high" art, graphic artists turned to photographs for information and ideas. The intriguing interplay that ensued also has remained a significant issue in the visual arts. Photographs that reproduce art objects also have had a profound effect on the democratization of public taste and knowledge, changing public perceptions of visual culture and making possible the establishment of art history as a serious discipline.

The much-publicized pronouncement by painter Paul Delaroche that the daguerreotype signaled the end of painting is perplexing because this clever artist also forecast the usefulness of the medium for graphic artists in a letter to Francpis Arago in 1839. Nevertheless, it is symptomatic of the swing between the outright rejection and qualified acceptance of the medium that was fairly typical of the artistic establishment. It was satirized in a group of cartoons by Nadar depicting an artistic community that denied photography's claims while using the medium to improve its own product. Discussion of the role of photography in art was especially spirited in France, where the internal policies of the Second Empire had created a large pool of artists, but it also was taken up by important voices in England. In both countries, public interest in this topic was a reflection of the belief that national stature and achievement in the arts were related. In central and southern Europe and the United States, where the arts played a lesser role, these matters were less frequently addressed.

NADAR (GASPARD Felix TOURNACHON). TWO cartoons. "Photography asking for just a little place in the exhibition of fine arts."
Engraving from Petit journal pour rire, 1855. "The ingratitude of painting refusing the smallest place in its exhibition to photography to whom it owes so much." Engravings from Le journal amusant, 1857. Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris.

From the maze of conflicting statements and heated articles on the subject, three main positions about the potential of camera art emerged. The simplest, entertained by many painters and a section of the public, was that photographs should not be considered "art" because they were made with a mechanical device and by physical and chemical phenomena instead of by human hand and spirit; to some, camera images seemed to have more in common with fabric produced by machinery in a mill than with handmade creations fired by inspiration. The second widely held view, shared by painters, some photographers, and some critics, was that photographs would be useful to art but should not be considered equal in creativeness to drawing and painting. Lastly, by assuming that the process was comparable to other replicatable techniques such as etching and lithography, a fair number of individuals realized that camera images were or could be as significant as handmade works of art and that they might have a beneficial influence on the arts and on culture in general.

Artists reacted to photography in various ways. Many portrait painters—miniaturists in particular—who realized that photography represented the "handwriting on the wall" became involved with daguerreotyping or paper photography; some incorporated it with painting, as in the case of Queen Victoria's painter Henry Collen, while others renounced painting altogether. Still other painters, the most prominent among them Ingres, began almost immediately to use photography to make a record of their own output and also to provide themselves with source material for poses and backgrounds, vigorously denying at the same time its influence on their vision or its claims as art. While there is no direct evidence to indicate that Ingres painted from daguerreotypes, it has been pointed out that in pose, cropping, and tonal range, the portraits made by the painter after Daguerre's invention virtually can be characterized as "enlarged daguerreotypes." Yet, this politically and artistically conservative artist was outspoken in contesting photography's claims as art as well as the rights of photographers to legal protection when their images were used without permission. The irony of the situation was not lost on French journalist Ernest Lacan, who observed that "photography is like a mistress whom one cherishes and hides, about whom one speaks with joy but does not want others to mention."

The view that photographs might be worthwhile to artists—acceptable for collecting facts, eliminating the drudgery of study from the live model, and expanding the possibilities of verisimilitude—was enunciated in considerable detail by Lacan and Francis Wey. The latter, a philologist as well as an art and literary critic, who eventually recognized that camera images could be inspired as well as informative, suggested that they would lead to greater naturalness in the graphic depiction of anatomy, clothing, likeness, expression, and landscape configuration. By studying photographs, true artists, he claimed, would be relieved of menial tasks and become free to devote themselves to the more important spiritual aspects of their work, while inept hacks would be driven from the field of graphic art. Wey left unstated what the incompetent artist might do as an alternative, but according to the influential French critic and poet Baudelaire, writing in response to an exhibition of photography at the Salon of 1859, lazy and "unendowed" painters would become photographers. Fired by a belief in art as an imaginative embodiment of cultivated ideas and dreams, Baudelaire regarded photography as "a very humble servant of art and science, like printing and stenography"—a medium largely unable to transcend "external reality." For this critic as well as for other idealists, symbolists, and aesthetes, photography was linked with "the great industrial madness" of the time, which in their eyes exercised disastrous consequences on the spiritual qualities of life and art. Somewhat later, the noted art critic Charles Blanc made the same point when he observed that because "photography copies everything and explains nothing, it is blind to the realm of the spirit."

Eugene Delacroix was the most prominent of the French artists who welcomed photography as helpmate but recognized its limitations. Regretting that "such a wonderful invention" had arrived so late in his lifetime, he still took lessons in daguerrcotyping, made cliche verve prints, joined the recently established Societe beliographique, and both commissioned and collected photographs. These included studies of the nude made by the amateur Eugene Durieu, with whom the artist collaborated on arranging the poses. Delacroix's enthusiasm for the medium can be sensed in a journal entry noting that if photographs were used as they should be, an artist might "raise himself to heights that we do not yet know."

The question of whether the photograph was document or art aroused interest in England also. A Popular Treatise on the Art of Photography, an 1841 work by Robert Hunt, emphasized processes rather than aesthetic matters, but noted that "an improvement of public taste," which had devolved from the fact that "nature in her rudest forms is more beautiful than any human production," already was discernible because of photography. The most important statement on this matter was the previously mentioned unsigned article by Lady Eastlakc, "Photography." Concerned with the relationship of "truth" and "reality" to "beauty," she contended that while depictions of the first two qualities were acceptable functions of the camera image, art expression was expected to be beautiful also. And beauty was a result of refinement, taste, spirituality, genius, or intellect—qualities not found in minutely detailed super-realistic visual descriptions made by machine. This formulation was addressed to collodion-albumen technology and enabled her to exempt the "Rembrandt-like" calotypes of Hill and Adamson from her condemnation. In addition to the broadly handled treatment seen in her own portrait or in The Misses Binny and Miss Monro, for example, Hill's and Adamson's images expressed the refinement of sentiment that Lady Eastlake considered an artistic necessity. She concluded that while photography had a role to play, it should not be "constrained" into "competition" with art; a more stringent viewpoint led critic Philip Gilbert Hamerton to dismiss camera images as "narrow in range, emphatic in assertion, telling one truth for ten falsehoods."

These writers reflected the opposition of a section of the cultural elite in England and France to the "cheapening of art," which the growing acceptance and purchase of camera pictures by the middle class represented. Collodion technology made photographic images a common sight in the shop windows of Regent Street and Piccadilly in London and the commercial boulevards of Paris. In London, for example, there were at the time some 130 commercial establishments (besides well-known individual photographers like Fenton and Rejlander) where portraits, landscapes, genre scenes, and photographic reproductions of works of art could be bought in regular and stereograph formats. This appeal to the middle class convinced the elite that photographs would foster a taste for verisimilitude instead of ideality, even though some critics recognized that the work of individual photographers might display an uplifting style and substance that was consonant with art.

John Ruskin, the most eminent figure in both English and American art at mid-century, first welcomed photography as the only 19th-century mechanical invention of value, and then reversed himself completely and denounced it as trivial. He made and collected daguerreotypes as well as paper prints of architectural and landscape subjects, and counseled their use to students and readers of his Elements of Drawing. Both academic and Pre-Raphaelite painters, among them William Frith, John Millais, Ford Madox Brown, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and the American Pre-Raphaelite William Stillman, employed photographs of costumes, interiors, models, and landscapes taken from various vantage points as study materials. While they insisted that their canvases were painted strictly from nature. some of their productions seem close enough in vision to extant photographs to suggest "that the camera has insinuated itself into the work. English painters may have been even more reticent than the French about acknowledging their use of photographs because of the frequent insistence in the British press that art must be made by hand to display a high order of feeling and inspiration.

EUGENE DURIEU. Figure Study No. 6, c. 1853.
Albumen print. Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris.

The 20 years following the introduction of collodion in 1851 was a period of increased activity by the photographic community to advance the medium's claims as art. Societies and publications were founded in England, France, Germany, Italy, and the United States, with the Photographic Society of London (now the Royal Photographic Society) and the Societe Frangaise de Photographic, established in 1853 and 1854 respectively, still in existence. Professional publications, including La Lumiere in Paris, the Photographic Journal in London, and others in Italy, Germany, and the United States, were in the vanguard of discussions about photographic art, devoting space to reviews of exhibitions of painting as well as photography.

Between 1851 and 1862, individual photographers, among them Antoine Claudet, Andre Adolphc Disderi, and numbers of the now-forgotten, joined artistic photographers Rejlander, Henry Peach Robinson, and William Lake Price in publishing articles and letters to the professional journals that attempted to analyze the aesthetic similarities and differences between graphic works and photographs and to decide if photography was or was not Art. Notwithstanding their long-winded, often repetitious contentions, the photographers and their allies evolved a point of view about the medium that still forms the basis of photographic aesthetics today. Summed up in a piece by an unknown author that appeared in the Photographic Journal at the beginning of 1862, ostensibly it addressed the immediate question of whether photography should be hung in the Fine Arts or Industrial Section of the forth-coming International Exposition. The author observed that "the question is not whether photography is fine art per se—neither painting nor sculpture can make that claim— but whether it is capable of artistic expression; whether in the hands of a true artist its productions become works of art." A similar idea, more succinctly stated, had illuminated the introduction by the French naturalist Louis Figuier to the Catalogue of the 1859 Salon of Photography (the exhibition that apparently inspired Baudelaire's diatribe). Figuier was one of a number of scientists of the era who were convinced that artistic expression and mass taste would be improved by photography, just as the general quality of human life would benefit from applied science. He observed that "Until now, the artist has had the brush, the pencil and the burin; now, in addition, he has the photographic lens. The lens is an instrument like the pencil and die brush, and photography is a process like engraving and drawing, for what makes an artist is not the process but the feeling."

The leading French painters of landscapes and humble peasant scenes—known as the Barbizon group—as well as the Realists and Impressionists who concerned themselves with the depiction of mundane reality, accepted photographs more generously than Ingres and the Salon painters, in part because of their scientific interest in light and in the accurate depiction of tonal values. A number of them, including Camille Corot, Gustave Courbet, and Jean Francois Millet, collected calotypes and albumen prints, apparently agreeing with Antoine Claudet that when a painter desires to imitate nature, there could be nothing better than to consult the "exacting mirror" of a photo graph. These artists considered the camera a "wonderfully obedient slave," and while not all of them painted from photographs directly, such camera "notes" had an important effect on their handling of light and tonality.

Portrait of Elizabeth Rigby, Later Lady Eastlake,
c. 1845. Calotype. National Portrait Gallery, London.

Frequenting the forests around Arras and Fontainebleau, the haunt also of a number of photographers, Barbizon painters became acquainted with cliche verre a drawing on a collodion glass plate that is a hybrid form—part drawing, part photographic print. Known since the early days of photography and included in both Hunt's treatise and a French work on graphic art processes, it was taught to many artists visiting the region by Adalbert and Eugene Cuvelier. It could be used as a sketching technique, as in a set of Five Landscapes by Corot, or to yield a more finely detailed print, exemplified by Woman Emptying a Bucket, an 1862 work by Millet. Cliche verre seems to have been exceptionally congenial to painters working in and around Barbizon, but an American artist, John W. Ehninger, supervised an album of poetry illustrated by this technique. Entitled Autograph Etchings by American Artists, it included the work of Asher B. Durand, one of the nation's most prominent mid-century landscapists. In England, its primary use was as a method of reproduction (called electrography) rather than as an expressive medium.

The effect of photography on the handmade arts be-came irreversible with the spread of collodion technology. Besides using camera images as studies of models and draperies and for portraits that were to be enlarged and printed on canvas, painters began to incorporate in their work documentary information and unconventional points of view gleaned from familiarity with all sorts of photographs. The high horizons, blurred figures, and asymmetrical croppings visible in many Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings, which seem to establish a relationship between these works and camera vision have been discussed by Scharf, Van Deren Coke, and others. To cite only one of numerous examples of the complex fashion in which painters incorporated camera vision into their work, an 1870 collaborative painting by the Americans Frederic E. Church, G. P. A. Healy, and Jenis McEntee, entitled The Arch of Titus makes use of a studio portrait of the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his daughter Edith as a focal point. But in addition to this obvious usage, the extreme contrast between monochromatic sky and the dark under portion of the arch, the transparency of the shadow areas, and the pronounced perspective of the view through the arch all suggest the close study of photographs. Artists using photographs in this way usually did not obtain permission or give credit to photographers, and it is not surprising that a number of court cases occurred involving better-known photographers who contested the right of painters to use their images without permission, a situation that has continued to bedevil photographers up to the present.

UNKNOWN PHOTOGRAPHER. Longfellow and Daughter in the Healy Studio in Rome. 1868-69.
Albumen print. Marie de Mare Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C


While painters were using photographs and critics were arguing the merits of this practice, how did the photographers themselves feel about the medium's status as art? Coming from a spectrum of occupations and class positions, and approaching the medium with differing expectations, they displayed a range of attitudes. Several, among them Sir William Newton, a painter-photographer who helped found the Photographic Society of London, and the fashionable society portraitist Camillc Silvy, were out-spoken in claiming that the medium was valuable only for its documentary veracity. Others, including Fcnton, Edouard Denis Baldus, and Charles Negre, endeavored to infuse photographic documentation with aesthetic character in the belief that camera images were capable of expression, while still others, notably Rejlander and Robinson, not only emulated the conventional subject matter of paintings but manipulated their photographs to produce "picturesque" images.

Starting in the early 1850s, photographic prints were shown in exhibition rooms and galleries and selected for inclusion in expositions where problems of classification sometimes resulted. For instance, nine Le Gray calotypes, submitted to the 1859 Salon, were first displayed among the lithographs and then, when their technique became known, were removed to the science section. For the remainder of the century, photographers attempted to have camera images included in the fine arts sections of the expositions, but indecision on the part of selection committees continued. On the other hand, exhibitions organized by the photographic societies in the 1850s at times included many hundreds of images that were displayed according to the conventions of the academic painting salons, eliciting criticism in the press and eventual repudiation in the late 1880s. "How is it possible," wrote an English reviewer in 1856 "for photographs, whose merit consists in their accuracy and minuteness of detail, to be seen to advantage when piled, tier upon tier, on the crowded walls of an exhibition room?" As if in answer to this criticism, photographers turned to the album as a format for viewing original photographs.

Photography and the Nude

That camera studies of both nudes and costumed figures would be useful to artists had been recognized by dagucrreotypists since the 1840s; Hermann Krone's Nude Study is typical of the conventional Academy poses produced for this trade. A calotype of a woman with a pitcher, by former French painter Julien Vallou de Villeneuve, exemplifies the numerous studies on paper of models costumed as domestic servants—designed to serve the same clientele—that probably were inspired by the work of French painters like Francois Bonvin; these simply posed and dramatically lighted figure studies continued a tradition of painted genre imagery with which photography—on the occasions when it was judged to be art—was invariably associated. Even well-known photographers provided studies of all aspects of the human figure for artists, as can be seen in Rejlander's Study of Hands.

Predictably, photographs of nudes appealed to others besides graphic artists. Indeed, soon after the invention of the medium, daguerreotypes (followed by ambrotypes. albumen prints, and stereographs, often hand-colored to increase the appearance of naturalness) were made expressly for salacious purposes. Photographic journals inveighed against this abuse of the camera, and some studios were raided as a result of court findings in Britain and the United States that photographs of nudes were obscene, but erotic and pornographic images continued to find an interested market. More to the point is the fact that to many Victorians no clear distinctions existed between studies of the nude made for artists, those done for personal expression, and those intended as titillating commercial images. In a milieu where people were scandalized by realistic paintings of unclothed figures except in mythological or historical contexts, where Ruskin was allowed to destroy J. M. W. Turner's erotic works, it would have been too much to expect that the even more naturalistic camera depiction of nudity would be accepted, no matter what purpose the images were designed to serve.

This was true even when such images were conceived with high artistic principles in mind, as with Rejlander's Two Ways of Life, to be discussed shortly. The same Victorian moral code no doubt accounts for Lewis Carroll's decision to destroy the negatives of his own artistically conceived images of nude young girls which he realized "so utterly defied convention," and to have the photographs of the daughters of his friends, including Beatrice Hatch, painted in by a colorist who supplied the fanciful outdoor decor. In this context, a comparison between the painted and photographed nudes by the American painter Thomas Eakins, who made some 200 such camera studies, is instructive. Photographs of a group of swimmers—made by Eakins or a student—for the painting The Swimming Hole capture movement and anatomical details with lively accuracy. Nevertheless, the painter, apparently concerned with avoiding anything that his Philadelphia patrons and critics might find offensive, discreetly (but unavailingly) rearranged the poses of the nude boys in the final work.




French lithographer, photographer and painter. From his debut at the Salon of 1814 as a painter he regularly exhibited lithographed images of daily life, fashion, regional costumes and erotica, many done after the work of English and Dutch artists. He also published his own lithographed compositions, mostly 'female types'. With Achille Deveria and others he contributed to the compendium of romantic erotica called Imagerie galante (Paris, 1830), which provocatively updated an erotic mode found in 18th-century engravings. The subjects were pictorial versions of stock characters from popular novels and plays.

JULIEN VALLOU DE VILLENEUVE. Woman with Pitcher, c. 1855.
Calotype. Bibliotheque Nationalc, Paris.



Oscar Gustave Rejlander (Sweden 1813 – Clapham, London on 18 January 1875) was a pioneering Victorian art photographer.
His exact date of birth is uncertain, but was probably 1813. He was the son of Carl Gustaf Rejlander, a stonemason and Swedish Army Officer. He studied art in Rome where he saw photographs of the sights, and then initially settled in Lincoln, England. He abandoned his original profession as a painter and portrait miniaturist, apparently after seeing how well a photograph captured the fold of a sleeve. Other accounts say he was inspired by one of Fox Talbot's assistants.

He set up as a portraitist in the industrial Midlands town of Wolverhampton, probably around 1846. Around 1850 he learned the wet-collodion and waxed-paper processes at great speed with Nicholas Henneman in London, and then changed his business to that of a photography studio. He undertook genre work and portraiture. He also created erotic work, using as models the circus girls of Mme Wharton, street children and child prostitutes - his Charlotte Baker series remains notorious.

Rejlander undertook many experiments to perfect his photography, including combination printing from around 1853, which it is possible he may have invented. He was a friend of photographer Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (better know by the nom de plume Lewis Carroll), who collected Rejlander's early child work and corresponded with him on technical matters. Rejlander later created one of the best known & most revealing portraits of Dodgson.

His early work only slightly sullied his later reputation, and he participated in the Paris Exhibition of 1855. In 1857 he made his best-known allegorical work, The Two Ways of Life. This was a seamlessly montaged combination print made of thirty-two images (akin to the use of Photoshop today, but then far more difficult to achieve) in about six weeks. First exhibited at the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857, the work shows two youths being offered guidance by a patriarch. Each youth looks toward a section of a stage-like tableaux vivant - one youth is shown the virtuous pleasures and the other the sinful pleasures. The image's partial nudity was deemed 'indecent' by some - and those familiar with Rejlander's more commercial work might also suspect that prostitutes had been used as cheap models. But the 'indecency' faded when Queen Victoria ordered a 10-guinea copy to give to Prince Albert.

Despite this royal patronage, controversy about The Two Ways of Life in strait-laced Scotland in 1858 led to a secession of a large group from the Photographic Society of Scotland, the secessionists founding the Edinburgh Photographic Society in 1861. They objected to the picture being shown with one half of it concealed by drapes. The picture was later shown at the Birmingham Photographic Society with no such furore or censorship. However the Photographic Society of Scotland later made amends and invited Rejlander to a grand dinner in his honour in 1866, held to open an exhibition that included many of his pictures.

The success of The Two Ways of Life, and membership of the Royal Photographic Society of London, gave him an entree into London respectability. He moved his studio to Malden Road, London around 1862 and further experimented with double exposure, photomontage, photographic manipulation and retouching. He became a leading expert in photographic techniques, lecturing and publishing widely, and sold portfolios of work through bookshops and art dealers. He also found subject-matter in London, photographing homeless London street children to produce popular 'social-protest' pictures such as "Poor Joe" and "Homeless".

He married Mary Bull in 1862, who was twenty-four years his junior. Mary had been his photographic model in Wolverhampton since she was aged 14.
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson visited Rejlander's Malden Road studio in 1863 and was inspired to set up his own studio. Around 1863 Rejlander visited the Isle of Wight and collaborated with Julia Margaret Cameron.

Some of Rejlander's images were purchased as drawing-aids to Victorian painters of repute, such as Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema. In 1872 his photography illustrated Darwin's classic treatise on The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.
He became seriously ill from about 1874. Rejlander died in 1875 with several claims on his estate, and costly funeral expenses. The Edinburgh Photographic Society raised money for his widow on Rejlander's death, and helped set up the Rejlander Memorial Fund.

Rejlander's ideas and techniques were taken up by other photographers and this, to some extent, justifies labelling him as the father of art photography.

OSCAR GUSTAV REJLANDER. Study of Hands, c. 1854.
Albumen print. Gernsheim Collection, Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin.


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, 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 and William Collie in his calotypes of rural folk on the Isle of Jersey.

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

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 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 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.

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

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


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; other works, exemplified by Krone's Still Life of the Washerwoman, are captivating because they embrace less conventional objects.

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

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

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; these prints may have inspired Eugene Chauvigne and Charles Aubry, among others, to attempt similar themes. In the dedication to Studies of Leaves, 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 original 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, 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 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. After-the-hunt scenes similar in size and generally less complex in arrangement were made also by Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond, Fenton, William Lake Price, Louise Laffon, Charles Philippe Auguste Carey, 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.

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

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

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

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

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. 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 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 into which the photographic parts were fitted in the manner of a puzzle or patchwork quilt. Fading Away, 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.

Albumen print. International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, Rochester, N.Y.

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.

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


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" 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 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. 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, 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, 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 reveal an ardent sensuality different from that seen in Cameron's narrative works.

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

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

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

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

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, 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.

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

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,, 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, 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.

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.

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, 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.

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

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. 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 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.

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

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

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  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.

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



Reaction was inevitable to the mannered contrivance of combination images and to the trivialization of photography by mass-production genre images. The former subverted an inherently direct process with a superabundance of handwork while the latter submerged photographic expression in a wash of banal literalism. And toward the end of the 1880s, a further lowering of standards appeared certain with the invention and marketing of new equipment and processes designed to make photographers out of just about everyone.

The most irresistible protest against these developments was embodied in the theory of "naturalism" proclaimed by the English photographer Peter Henry Emerson. In an 1889 publication entitled Naturalistic Photography, Emerson held that camera images (and all visual art) ought to reflect nature with "truth of sentiment, illusion of truth .. . and decoration," that only by following this path would photographs achieve an aesthetic status independent of and equal to the graphic arts without resorting to handwork on print or negative.

In Emerson's lexicon, Naturalism was a substitute for Impressionism, a word he felt was limited in connotation, and too closely associated with controversial artists such as his friend James McNeil! Whistler. Asserting that the role of the photographer was to be sensitive to external impressions, he observed that "nature is so full of surprises that, all things considered, she is best painted (or photographed) as she is." At the same time, his emphasis on the importance of selection and feeling made his ideas congenial to the aesthetic artists of thie late 19th century. In a field already confused by inaccurate terminology, Emerson compounded the problem by stating that realism was "false to nature" because it was descriptive, while Naturalism was both "analytical and true."

For eight years, beginning in 1882, Emerson photographed in the tidal areas of East Anglia. A careful observer, he probed beyond the surface to expose in both word and image the difficult existence of the English rural poor while also documenting their fast-disappearing customs and traditions. In exalting the sturdy folk and quiet beauty of the countryside, he showed himself to be one of a group of comfortably situated English artists and intellectuals who sought to make a statement about the incivility of modern industrial life. Despite his insistence on a distinctive aesthetic for photography, however, these images reflect the heroicizing attitudes of painters such as Jean Francois Millet, Jules Breton, and Jules Bastion-Lepage, who had idealized French peasant life a few decades earlier. Reapers at Damnlle, an etching of 1879 by Bastien-Lepage, is both visually and ideologically a forerunner of In the Barley Harvest, a plate from Emerson's Pictures of East Anglian Life of 1888. Emerson's Naturalist concepts and techniques challenged Robinson's Pictorialist dictates, initiating an acrimonious dispute in the photographic journals; ideas abou: class and aesthetics engaged other photographers and editors as well. In addition, the Naturalist approach began to influence the work of other established English camera artists. In the Twilight by Lidell Sawyer, a Pictorialist "born, nursed and soaked" in photography who deplored the fragmentation of the medium into schools, incorporates a sense of atmosphere into a carefully composed genre scene in an effort to balance contrivance and naturalness. One of the most renowned Pictorialist photographers in England, Frank M. Sutcliffe worked in Whitby, a fishing village that was at the time a mecca for painters and amateur photographers. Interested in the hand camera as well as in portraiture, landscapes, and genre scenes made with a stand camera, Sutcliffe's work displays a sensitive application of the Naturalistic precept of spontaneity. The conscious selection of an expressive vantage point, along with carefully controlled printing techniques enabled him to invest Water Rats with both the immediacy of real life and a transcendent lyricism.

Emerson renounced his great expectations for artistic photography in 1890, convinced that the pioneering studies in sensitometry—the scientific relation of tonality to exposure—published in the same year by Frederick Hurter and Vero Driffield, proved that photographers could not truly control the tonal quality of the print, and therefore the medium was at best a secondary art. Despite this turnabout, however, Naturalism—refined and reinterpreted—continued to find adherents, providing a foundation for the photographic art movements that developed throughout Europe and North America after 1890.

PETER HENRY EMERSON. In the Barley Harvest from Pictures of East Anglian Life, 1888.
Gravure print. Royal Photographic Society, Bath, England.


LIDELL SAWYER. In the Twilight, 1888.
Gravure print. Gernsheim Collection, Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin.

FRANK M. SUTCLIFFE. Water Rats, 1886.
Albumen print. Private Collection.

Art Works in Photographic Reproduction

While the struggle for the acceptance of camera pictures as art was being carried on by a small group of aesthetically minded photographers, a development of much greater consequence for the general population was underway. Realizing that the accurate reproduction of works of art could be both commercially and culturally beneficial, a number of professional photographers throughout Europe started in the 1850s to publish photographic prints of the mastenvorks of Western art. There is little question that since that time the camera image has been the most significant purveyor of visual artifacts, revolutionizing public access to the visual art heritage of the world. The same verisimilitude denounced by elitists as too real when applied to recording actuality was welcomed when used for reproducing art objects, because it was believed that familiarity with masterful works of art through facsimiles would not only uplift the spirit but would improve taste and enable people to make better selections of decor and dress in their daily lives.

It will be recalled that photographs of engravings and casts were among the earliest themes in daguerreotypes and calotypes, in part because these objects provided un-moving subjects but also because they established the possibility of making graphic art available to a wide audience. With the inclusion of the Bust of Patroclus and a drawing of Hagar in the Desert in The Pencil of Nature, and a publication on Spanish painting, Talbot specifically pointed to this important application of photography. Instructions for photographing works of art, notably by Blanquart-Evrard and Disderi, appeared during the 1850s, at the same time that photographers in Italy were including such works in views made for tourists. James Anderson (born Isaac Atkinson), an English watercolorist, was one of the first to make photographic reproductions of paintings and sculpture along with the better-known architectural monuments of Rome. Considering the dimness of the interior of the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli, Anderson's achievement in conveying both the sculptural form and expressive drama of Michelangelo's Moses from the Tomb of Julius II is remarkable.

During the 1850s, a considerable number of photographers outside of Italy, among them Antoinc Samuel Adam-Salomon, Baldus, Diamond. Disderi, Fenton, and Franz Hanfstaengl in Europe and John Moran in the United States, began to photograph art objects ranging from those in royal and renowned collections to obscure artifacts in antiquarian societies. As a result of the favorable response by prestigious art critics to the photographic reproductions at the Exposition Untverselle of 1855, a more programmatic approach ensued. Between 1853 and i860., Fenton worked for the British Museum, providing them with negatives and selling prints to the public, from which he garnered a not inconsiderable income; besides sculpture and inscribed tablets, he photographed stuffed animals and skeletons. The Alinari brothers of Florence, Braun in Dornach, Hanfstaengl in Munich, and, later, Goupil in Paris—to name the most famous companies—organized large enterprises for the publication and sale of art reproductions. In spite of objections from painters in Italy who regarded photographs as a threat to their livelihood as copyists, these projects all prospered.

Braun, who was said to have higher ambitions than mere commercial success and who might be considered the exemplar of this activity, began modestly by photographing rarely seen Holbein drawings in the museum at Basel, not far from his studio at Dornach; when access to other collections became possible through favorable publicity in the press and a bit of lobbying in the proper circles, the company he established photographed some forty collections of drawings, frescoes, paintings, and sculpture in Paris, Rome, Florence, Milan, Dresden, and Vienna. During the mid-186os, the firm changed from albumen to carbon printing in order to produce permanent images, but the change also made possible exact facsimiles because the photographs incorporated earth pigments similar to those used in the original drawings in the carbon tissues. Widely acclaimed for the improvement in taste engendered by the excellence of his work, Braun kept abreast of changing technologies in both photography and printing, and at the time of his death in 1877 had begun to solve the problem of reproducing oil paintings in color.

The effect of this large-scale activity on the part of Braun and others was to increase the accuracy of representation, making low-cost reproductions of artworks available not only to individuals but to art schools in Europe and the United States. One English enthusiast even suggested that both the expenses and cultural risks of sending English students to study in France and Italy might be avoided because such excellent reproductions had become obtainable! While students thoughtfully continued to insist on contact with real works, photographic reproductions did have a profound effect on the discipline of art history. For the first time, identically replicated visual records enabled scholars in widely separated localities to establish chronologies, trace developments, and render aesthetic judgments. Besides familiarizing people with the acknowledged masterpieces of Western art, photographs made lesser works visible and awakened interest in artifacts and ceremonial objects from ancient cultures and little-known tribal societies. As a substitute for actual visual and tactile experiences, especially in the case of multifunctional three-dimensional structures (architecture), camera images clearly present problems, but it is all but impossible to imagine how the study of visual artifacts would have fared without photography.

In its early struggles to show itself capable of artistic expression, photography wandered down some uneasy byways, and its practitioners initiated some enduring arguments about camera art. These developments were due in part to the hesitation by critics and painters to acknowledge the camera's expressive potential and in part to confusion among photographers themselves as to what constituted artistic images. From a historical perspective, it seems possible to conclude that the medium was at its best when illuminating aspects of the real world, and least inspiring when emulating the sentimental conventions of genre (or other) painting. Sensitivity to the disposition of form, to the varieties of textural experience, and to the nuances and contrasts of light rather than emphasis on narrative content gave photographs their unique power, whether their makers called their images documents or art.

During the same period, painters faced with the threat presented by a potentially rival visual medium found a variety of ways to use the photograph, whether or not they admitted doing so. Of even greater significance was the transformation that occurred in the handmade arts as camera images began to suggest to artists new ways to delineate form and new areas of experience worthy of depiction. Tenuous at first, these interconnections between graphic and photographic representation have gained strength over the years and continue in the present to invigorate both media.

JAMES ANDERSON. Michelangelo's Moses from the Tomb of Julius II, early 1850s.
Albumen print. Collection Centre Canadien d'Architecture/ Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal.


Charles Negre

Charles Negre was an established painter of some repute who became interested in photography for its expressive and technical capabilities as well as its possible commercial exploitation. Born in Grasse, France, in 1820, the nineteen-year-old Negre arrived in Paris determined to become an artist in the classical tradition. He enrolled first in the studio of Delaroche, with Fenton, Le Gray, and Le Secq as classmates, and later studied with Ingres. A canvas was accepted for exhibition in the Paris Salon of 1843, and for the next ten years Negre regularly exhibited under this prestigious sponsorship.

In common with other Delaroche students, Negre experimented with daguerreotyping, producing a number of landscapes, and around 1849-50 he began to make calotypes as an aid in painting. In the following years, Negre began to photograph actively, drawing upon the picturesque tradition made popular in France by Francois Bonvin. In his portrayals of beggars, shepherds, peasants, and the working-class poor of the city, he subordinated detail to overall effect by the careful manipulation of light and shade exemplified by Toung Girl Seated with a Basket (pi. no. 256). The delicate pencil shadings that Negre applied to the paper negatives in order to adjust values and subdue sharpness were all but invisible on the rough-textured paper surface of the calotype print.

Attracted by spontaneous street activity, the photographer invented a combination of fast lenses to capture aspects of passing life such as market scenes (pi. no. 286), one of which he translated almost directly into a small oil in 1852. He also undertook an ambitious architectural documentation in die south of France, culminating in a portfolio of some 200 prints of buildings, ruins, and landscapes of the Midi, which he endeavored to publish but without much success. Eventually, the project led to a government commission for a series of photographs of Chartres Cathedral. The rich architectural textures and clear details revealed in these images suggest that Negre had found an inherently photographic aesthetic that was not dependent on painted antecedents.

Besides perfecting calotyping techniques, Negre displayed an interest in the craft aspect of photography that led to an involvement with printing processes. Convinced that gravure printing would solve the problems of permanence and make possible the inexpensive distribution of photographs, he improved on the process developed by Niepce de Saint Victor, receiving his own patent in 1856. One year earlier, his gravure prints had been commended for "subtlety of detail, tonal vigor and transparency of middle tones," but to his great disappointment and the surprise of many, the Duc de Luynes prize for a photographic printing technology went in 1867 to Alphonsc Louis Poitevin. Negre, by then a drawing master in Nice, continued to work for several years on a gravure project but seems to have lost interest in photography. At their best, his calotypes demonstrate a respect for die integrity of the medium informed by exceptional sensitivity to light and form.

CHARLES NEGRE. Market Scene at the Port de L'Hotel de Ville, Paris, 1851.
Salt print. Collection Andre Jammes, Paris; National Gallety of Canada, Ottawa.

CHARLES NEGRE. Deux Pifferari dans la cour du 21 quai Bourbon vers 1854

Peter Henry Emerson

Peter Henry Emerson, a girted but contentious individual who practiced only briefly the medical profession for which he was trained, was involved with photography for some 30 years, but all his important contributions were made between 1885 and 1893. During this period, as he developed, refined, and then denounced a theory of aesthetics, he also documented aspects of rural life in England with the stated aim of "producing truthful pictures."

Born in Cuba of a family distantly related to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Peter Henry arrived in England in 1869 to begin a disciplined education that eventually was crowned with degrees in medicine and surgery. In 1882 he began to photograph, and three years later, on gaining his last medical tide, embarked on a documentation of the marshy region of East Anglia inhabited mainly by poor farm laborers, fishermen, hunters, and basket-makers. Hiring a boat to cruise through the inland waterways and fens, Emerson met the landscape painter T. F. Goodall, with whom he collaborated on a book of images of this area, Life atid Landscape on the Norfolk Broads—40 platinum prints with text, issued in 186 Over the next five years, despite his avowedly aesthetic outlook, Emerson continued to work in this region and to publish images in book form—that is, as sequential statements rather than as individual works of art.

In considering techniques for capturing the "truth'" of the real world on photographic plates, Emerson was motivated both by his revulsion against what he considered the meretricious art of the past and by his scientific outlook. A trip to Italy in 1881 had convinced him that the renowned masterpieces of church art, from the mosaics at Ravenna to Michelangelo's frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, were unnatural and mannered—that one might learn more from a walk "in the fields of Italy" than from visits to museums and churches to see "some middle-age monstrosity." His scientific background led him to examine physiological factors in human vision, and on the basis of the optical theories of Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz, he argued that during a momentary glance human vision is sharp only at the point of focus, whereas the camera lens produces an image that is equally sharp over the entire field; therefore, photographers should use long-focal-length soft lenses to approximate natural vision—that is, to replicate instantaneous perception. He ignored the fact that the human eye does not fix itself on one point but travels rapidly over the visual scene, communicating as it does so a sharply defined picture to the brain. It is ironic, also, that his call for softer delineation came at the very moment when the sharpest lenses developed were being introduced into Europe.

That Emerson sought a scientific basis for truthfully depicting actuality while concluding that the goals of art and science were incongruous is one of the paradoxes of his career. It also is puzzling that he could so deftly renounce his great expectations for photography when presented with a means for controlling the relationship of exposure and development. Apart from these inconsistencies, his contributions include the promotion of platinum printing paper for its subtle gradations and permanence, of hand-pulled gravure for reproduction, and of sensible rules for the submission and display of photographs in competitions and exhibitions. As a means of avoiding the fictive and the false in art, his theory of Naturalism inspired a generation of photographers to seek both truth and beauty in actuality.




Opposing the strategies advocated by Robinson, in the 1880s the English physician and photographer Peter Henry Emerson proposed that photographs should reflect nature, offer “the illusion of truth,” and be produced without using retouching techniques, recombining multiple prints, or utilizing staged settings, models, and costumes. He believed that the unique qualities of tone, texture, and light inherent in photography made it a unique art form, making any embellishments used for the sake of “art” unnecessary. This is not to say his own photographs were purely documentary—in fact, his work in some ways mimicked the artistic effects of the Barbizon school and Impressionist painting—but they eschewed the manipulated artistic effects of his contemporaries. Emerson’s views, known as naturalistic photography, gained a considerable audience through his widely read 1889 publication entitled Naturalistic Photography and through numerous articles that appeared in photography journals throughout the 1890s.
Peter Henry Emerson
Peter Henry Emerson, (born May 13, 1856, Cuba—died May 12, 1936, Falmouth, Cornwall, England), English photographer who promoted photography as an independent art form and created an aesthetic theory called “naturalistic photography.”

Trained as a physician, Emerson first began to photograph as a part of an anthropological study of the peasants and fishermen of East Anglia. These photographs, published in such books as Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads (1886) and Pictures of East Anglian Life (1888), are an intimate documentation of rural English life in the late 19th century.

Emerson soon became convinced that photography was a medium of artistic expression superior to all other black-and-white graphic media because it reproduces the light, tones, and textures of nature with unrivaled fidelity. He was repelled by the contemporary fashion for composite photographs, which imitated sentimental genre paintings. In his handbook Naturalistic Photography (1889), he outlined a system of aesthetics. He decreed that a photograph should be direct and simple and show real people in their own environment, not costumed models posed before fake backdrops or other such predetermined formulas.

Emerson’s book was very persuasive, but in 1891 he published a black-bordered pamphlet “The Death of Naturalistic Photography,” in which he recanted his opinion that the accurate reproduction of nature was synonymous with art. Despite his change of mind, his initial views remained influential and formed the rationale of much 20th-century photography.

Peter Henry Emerson
Confessions, 1887