History of Photography Midterm

1 – Technical Development: The Calotype and Art Photography

In André Rouillé’s chapter “The Rise of Photography 1851-70” he discusses the misconception of affiliating the technical use of the calotype process strictly to artistic photography. Despite this processes qualities of softening outlines and chiaroscuro effect, these do not guaranty the production of art. To affirm this, Rouillé uses Gustav Le Gray practice of using the collodion, calotype as well as dry glaze paper processes to express that it is also a misconception to assume that artistic photography must also possess the inherent qualities of the calotype. (Rouillé, 35) This critique of the calotype as a process and its influence as a technical development sparked my interest because it brings into question what art photography should look like. Throughout this semester we have been learning how the multifunctional uses of photography as a medium is continuously evolving as technological changes occur. It is interesting to me to think about how, for some reason, since its beginnings, for photography to be considered art it had to meet certain criteria. In a similar way throughout this semester in voicing my interest in making conceptual work that used visual elements for their symbolic value I was shut down and told that that is not what photography as a medium is for. Rouillé’s discussion of the calotypes link to art photography reminds me that there is more than one way of doing things and that art can be produced from a number of different mediums and techniques. It is not limited to anything other than one’s idea of what it should be. This influences my practice because it inspires me to try and test as many different processes and techniques I can so I can really speak through photography and express myself fluently through the medium.

2 – Photographic Group: Photo-Secession and Pictorialism

Photo-Secession was an art photography movement in the U.S that promoted pictorialism in modern photography. It was a very exclusive, affluent and homogenous group of photographers whose members broke away from the New York Camera Club in 1902. Members included Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Clarence H. White, Gertrude Käsebier, and Alvin Langdon Coburn. Together they would curate exhibitions and produce, criticize and publish their work in their publication Camera Work. Pictorialism looked to distance itself from realism to certify photography as an art form that required skill and technique, as opposed to being perceived as a purely mechanical process that anyone could do. To achieve this, pictorialists adopted difficult and time-consuming technical processes such as gum bichromate and platinum palladium printing. In addition, they looked to visually communicate emotion or feeling that transcended the visual representation of their subjects by using poetic symbolism and manipulating their composition and elements of style. What is interests me about Photo-Secession as a group is how in creating such a self-reliant system to redefine photography they both promoted a new way of thinking about the medium and limited it simultaneously. In a way, pictorialist put artistic photography back in a box in the same way the misperception of the calotype did. For this reason, I reject the idealism of art photography that the pictorialists of Photo-Secession upheld. That being said, I do appreciate the idea of photography being used as a medium of emotive visual communication as opposed to documentation. In my own practice, I am looking to consciously recognize that in feeling the need to define photography with rigid limitations I lose the potential of uncovering different possible uses of the medium. As well as deciding when this can be a positive or restrictive quality within my artmaking process. I also want to be thinking and experimenting more critically as to how to visually communicate emotions and feelings through photography in an effective way.

3 – Material Development: Pictorialism

In Marc Melon’s chapter “Beyond Reality: Art Photography” in A History of Photography: Social and Cultural Perspectives, he discusses the push that occurred in 1870 to establish photography as a fine art. Highlighting the bourgeoisies interest in using the medium to enhance class distinction by qualifying certain circumstances of its use as art. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, pictorialists looked to distance themselves from merely recording reality, thus developing and implementing difficult processes and techniques to validate their work as art. From using gum bichromate, vaseline on their lenses, making palladium prints, limited edition prints by braking negatives, and photogravures, photographers really pushed their skill set. While I don’t think that photography has to resort to fancy technical processes to be considered art, I do appreciate the level of experimentation and developments in technique that were produced to create different effects within the medium. The material developments that occurred as a result of pictorial efforts are very interesting to me. In my own practice, I would like to experiment with different printmaking processes. Potentially taking the alternative processes class in the spring semester.

4 – Photographic Movement: Surrealism

Surrealism is an artistic movement started by André Breton when he published his book, Manifesto of Surrealism in 1924. Based on Freudian psychoanalysis which divides human consciousness into three parts; the Ego (conscious mind), Id (subconscious mind), and the SuperEgo (super-conscious mind). Surrealism looked to create art that liberated desire and repressed sexuality relating to the subconscious. Doing this was not only a radical new way of approaching art making but was also considered to be a powerful political movement. According to surrealism, in liberating sexuality and repressed desire you undermine any institutions ability to use it as a means of control. I do not agree with the misogynist overtones many surrealist works possessed; such as Hans Bellmer’s doll photographs. While fetishism and disturbing erotica can easily fit into the broad description of surrealist expression, I am more interested in the goal of expressing metaphysical theory, the subconscious and desire in a less vulgar way. In addition, Claude Cahun’s collages are a source of inspiration and I look to use this method of manipulated photography in my work.

5 – Individual Photographic Practice: Moholy-Nagy

László Moholy-Nagy was a modernist artist who had a constructivist approach to new media and industrial techniques. He taught at the Bauhaus, an influential German school of modernist art and design. (Foster, Krauss and Bois, 191) Moholy-Nagy’s dedication to understanding “the new culture of light” (Foster, Krauss and Bois, 193) influenced his production of collages, photomontages, photographs, photograms, and metal constructions. He “adopted the Soviet artist’s notion of faktura, which he understood to mean that a new vision could be created only when photography was practiced for its own inherent qualities, not as an imitation of painting.” (Marien, 243) This is highlighted in Moholy-Nagy’s own essay “Unprecedented Photography” where he argues that photography represents a historic mutation in the visual arts, reflecting the fact that “this century belongs to light.” The immediate task of the photographer consists of developing a true “language of photography” entirely from within its own range of optical and chemical possibilities. (Moholy-Nagy, 83) Moholy-Nagy’s view of photography and emphasis of the need for photographic literacy is fascinating to me. Reading about his perspective was refreshing and it made me happy to be engaging with someone’s mind that valued photography as its own entity. In some way, his focus on process and experimentation feels a little direct and rigid, however, it resonates with me. Regardless of how nerdy and potentially impossible, the idea of being fluent in the language of light, it is a source of inspiration for me, in creating art, refining my photographic processing and exploring the medium further. Lastly, Moholy-Nagy’s use of shapes and unusual angles in his work even outside of photography are also a source of inspiration in terms of thinking about composition.

6 – Modernism on the Ganges: Raghubir Singh Photographs – Met Museum

The photograph by Raghubir Singh that caught my attention at this exhibition is entitled “Swami Shardananda Bathes at the Source, Gaumukh (Cow’s Mouth), 12 700 Feet High, Uttar Pradesh”. A chromogenic print, it was taken in 1969, however, was printed posthumously in 1999, and has a size of 38cm x 25cm. Its subject matter consists of a nude man, Swami Shardanand holding a cloth in one hand with his back facing the lens, he is gesturing towards a body of water to the right of him within the mountainous and snowy landscape. The compositional elements that are notable are; the contrast in shapes between the angular rocks and the organic ones of the Swami’s body and the water, the use of color, the contrast is the highlights and shadows as well as the contrast in textures. This work relates to my photographic interests as I am interested in finding abstraction within recognizable forms and exploring themes of contemplation. While this piece does not reach the point of abstraction, the way in which he photographed the mountain is particularly striking to me. Singh’s modernist style and use of colors throughout his body of work is also a source of inspiration and motivates me to be more aware of where I can implement it into my work.


Works Cited

Foster, Krauss, Bois. “1923 – The Bauhaus” In Art Since 1900. 191-195.

Rouillé, André, “The rise of photography (1852-70).” In A History of Photography: Social and

Cultural Perspectives, André Rouillé, 29-61, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Marien, Mary Warner, Photography: A Cultural History. New Jersey: Pearson Education, 2007.

Book (243-246).

Melon, Marc, “Beyond reality: art photography.” In A History of Photography: Social and

Cultural Perspectives. Cambridge 1986. 80-101.

Moholy-Nagy, László. “Unprecedented Photography” In Photography in the Modern Era. Hal

Foster. 83-85.


Leave a reply

Skip to toolbar