But is it art?

I have found and downloaded a concise well-structured story of photography written by The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica which is being really helpful for a first exploration of the ground ahead. From this I am jotting down very schematic notes of photography early developments for my future use.

Antecedents and early developments:

camera obscura: forerunner of the camera, consisting in a dark chamber or room with a hole (later a lens) in one wall, through which images of objects outside the room are projected on the opposite wall; known to the Chinese and to ancient Greeks, it was described in the XVI century by the Italian scientist and writer Giambattista della Porta

chemistry: in 1727 J. H. Schulze (Germany) proved that the darkening of silver salts was caused by light and not heat. This discovery together with that of the camera obscura paved the ground for the later ‘invention’ of photography

heliography: ‘sun drawing’ – in 1826/27 N. Niépce (France) used a camera obscura fitted with a pewter plate and produced his first successful photograph from nature, a view of the courtyard of his country estate, with an exposure time of about eight hours

Fig. 1

At: www.photo-museum.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/catalogue-Niepce-View_Le_Gras.jpg (Accessed 7/04/2017)

daguerreotype: in 1828 L.-J.-M. Daguerre, a French professional scene painter, enters into a partnership with Niépce and by 1835 discovers that in the light a latent image forms on a plate of iodized silver and that it can be ‘developed’ and made visible by exposure to mercury vapour, which settles on the exposed parts of the image. Exposure time can thus be reduced from eight hours to 30 minutes. In 1839 Daguerre sells full rights to the daguerreotype and the heliograph to the French government and publishes a booklet describing the process, An Historical and Descriptive Account of the Various Processes of the Daguerreotype and the Diorama (a PDF copy of the original can be seen and downloaded at http://photobib.bonartes.org/tl_files/buecher_scans/ALB-GLV435_96dpi.pdf, accessed 18/04/2017)

photogenic drawing: W. H. F. Talbot The Pencil of Nature (previous post)

early views of the medium’s potential: from its beginnings photography is compared with painting and drawing and is considered by most a shortcut to art, according to Daguerre’s view: ‘With this technique, without any knowledge of chemistry or physics, one will be able to make in a few minutes the most detailed views.’

development of the calotype: in 1940 Talbot discovers that gallic acid can be used to develop a latent image on paper (negative) after an exposure time of one minute

But is photography an art?

Photographic societies are set up in the mid-19th century in London, Paris and elsewhere and help in establishing photography as an aesthetic medium which is meant to imitate painting by different means, for instance putting the subject slightly out of focus and retouching photographs. As a consequence photographers begin to combine several negatives to make one print and try to push photography beyond what were considered its technical limitations.

Pictorialism as against naturalistic photography

In 1858 Henry Peach Robinson, a professional English photographer combines five negatives in a famous print, Fading Away, with a dying girl as its subject, consisting in a scene posed and arranged for the camera.

Risultati immagini per fading away robinson

Fig. 2

At: https://media1.britannica.com/eb-media/69/59969-004-F0287A4E.jpg (Accessed 7/04/2017)

He also publishes a very influential book, Pictorial Effect in Photography (1869). He stresses the importance of balance and of the opposition between light and dark to emulate painting, and so gives rise to a long-lasting debate if photography should imitate painting – and implicitly renounce its specificity as a medium – or rather reflect nature.

This second approach is advocated by P. H. Emerson who proposes instead that photographs offer ‘the illusion of truth’ and be made without recourse to retouching techniques, combination of multiple prints and use of staged settings, models and costumes, thus exploiting the qualities of tone, texture and light of the new medium and making it a unique art form. In 1889 he publishes the very influential Naturalistic Photography.

Though different, both approaches had the same goal to make photography an art form in its own right.

Stieglitz and the Photo-Secession

In 1902 Alfred Stieglitz founds in New York City the Photo-Secession group, after the name of the avant-garde secessionist movement in Europe and opens the Little Galleries to exhibit the works of Modernist painters, sculptors and photographers. In the 15 years of its existence the group moved away from Pictorialism towards sharply defined prints like those of Paul Strand and Edward Steichen.

Risultati immagini per paul strand

Fig. 3 Paul Strand, Wall Street, New York City (1915)

At: https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Strand (Accessed 7/04/2017)

Steichen, Edward

Fig. 4. Edward Steichen, Ad for Coty Lipstick (c. 1930)

At: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/12/14/a-celebration-of-edward-steichen-the-world-s-first-fashion-photographer.html (Accessed 7/04/2017)


https://www.britannica.com/technology/photography (Accessed 17/03/2017)

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Henry-Peach-Robinson (Accessed 17/03/2017)

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Peter-Henry-Emerson (Accessed 17/03/2017)

Edwards, S. (2006) Photography: A Very Short Introduction. [Kindle edition] From:Amazon.it (Accessed 17/03/2017)


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