3. The Continuing Dialogue - Naturalism or Pictorialism
The 1880's saw the second wave of technical innovation. Photogravure printing for illustrated magazines and newspapers, dry plates, enlargers, hand cameras even the Kodak push button. The resulting ubiquity of photographs compelled the art photographer to separate in every possible way his or her own work from that of the common commercial portraitist, Sunday amateur or family chronicler. Abigail Solomon-Godeau (1985) p313.
The problematic 19th century question was how is photography best used ? One solution was to mirror the painters practice of staging of a scene, and as adjunct the compositional device of montage was used by many English nineteenth century pictorialist photographers. For example Henry Peach Robinson (1830 - 1901), the most succesful English photographer of his time published Pictorial Effect in Photography (1869).
Trained as a painter, he became a Royal Academician (R.A) when only 20. Robinson made photographs in the sentimental and allegorical styles favoured by English Victorian painters eg. the death bed scene "Fading Away" (1858). This albumen print, made by combination printing a number of collodon negatives, caused unease among Robinson's contemporaries due to its morbid reality. Robinson published detailed descriptions of his combination printing methods eg. his use of special cloud negatives.
3.1 A principle opponent of Robinson was the photographer and writer Peter Henry Emerson ( 1856 -1936 ) who published Naturalistic Photography (1889). Emerson deplored photographs made according to the academic standards of painting. Emerson was however also strongly influenced by painting, but in contrast to Robinson's studio based approach, Emerson was interested in Impressionism and described himself as a naturalist. Nancy Newhall's book "P.H. Emerson and the Fight for Photography as a Fine Art"(1978) investigates Emerson's naturalism, and particularly his belief that "nature is the first scientific principle in art" (Newhall 1978 p.34).
3.2 The English writer, art critic and socialist educationalist John Ruskin (1819-1900) was highly influential, particularly in his writing about landscape. Aaron Scharfe in his essay "The Gospel of Landscape"(1975) aks why was landscape so important for Ruskin.
3.3 The English writer and landscape photographer A.Horsley Hinton (1863-1908) was highly respected during his day, and onef the mostinfluential landscape photographers. In this article for The Amateur Photographer. Hinton sought to answer the question of [what is] "The Legitimate in Photography"(1893).
3.4 In "A Tyro's Annual" (1931) the American "straight "photographer Edward Weston (1886-1958) writes a devastating critique of the works of pictorialist photography which were published in "The American Annual of Photography" for 1931.
3.5 Contemporary British writers, such as John Taylor in his essay "The Alphabetic Universe: photography and the picturesque landscape"(1984) and "A Dream of England" (1994), continues the Robinson v Emerson debate. With additional sociological and political re-readings of the history of landscape photography, the new historians stress "truth" in the source material. However, while the source of evidence may be an irrefutable photograph, Taylor considers the readers interpretation as crucial. Consequently there is a scepticism about knowing anything for sure.
3.6 The American photographic critic A.D.Coleman gives a further twist to the debate about naturalism and its alternatives in his classic essay "The Directorial Mode".
"history is theory, & theory is ideological and ideology is just material interest" anon.
Ades D. Photomontage (London; Thames & Hudson, 1976).
Coleman A.D. Light Readings, A Photographic Critics Writings (1968-78) (New York, Oxford University Press, 1979).
Harker Margaret The Linked Ring (London, Heinemann & RPS, 1979).
Harker M. Henry Peach Robinson, Master of Photographic Art 1830-1901 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988).
Newhall N. P.H. Emerson; The Fight for Photography as a Fine Art ( New York; Aperture, 1978).
Plowden D. (ed) The Land (London; Gordon Fraser,1975).
Pugh S. (ed) Reading Landscape (Manchester University Press 1989). Shaarfe A. The Gospel of Landscape in (Plowden 1975) pp i-vii.
Taylor John Pictorial Photography in Britain 1900 - 1920 (London; Arts Council of G.B. 1978).
Taylor J. A Dream of England, Landscape Photography and the Tourist's Imagination (Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1994.
Taylor J The Alphabetic Universe : photography and the picturesque landscape Reprinted in (Pugh 1989)pp.179-185.
Turner P. & Wood R. Peter H. Emerson, Photographer of Norfolk (London: Gordon Fraser, 1974).