History of Photography

Dr. Peter Hagerty (PhD)

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History of Photography Studies  
Seminar : The Viennese Secession and Pictorialism

As a tool for evidence, identification, inventory and comparison photography is incomparable. Such roles for photography have their origins in the mid nineteenth century. By the end of that century, photographers had documented landscapes, cities, urban environments, collections of art and artefact and founded catalogues of cultures and people. Much of this material has provided a valuable source for historians and continues to support research in our digital era.

The nineteenth century photographer's commercial product was the albumen print, produced in runs of thousands and approaching machine finish in quality. At the same time some photographers sought a more experimental approach in their work and the possibility of asserting less commercial; more personal values.

There are a number of parallels between this period and our own. The end of the nineteenth century shares with twentieth century a concern for experimentation and aesthetic values in photography. While the approach in the former period was one of darkroom craft with intervention by the artists hand, the more contemporary dilemma, of the digital darkroom, is not whether photographers should manipulate their photographs, but by how much?

There are further comparisons which can be made between the last decades of the nineteenth century and those of the twentieth. The end of the nineteenth century witnessed an explosion of amateur and professional photographic exhibitions. In the late twentieth century the photographic gallery has become commonplace, its origins can be seen to originate in the earlier century.

Also comparable between these two periods is the separation of commercial photographers from those who consciously explore the medium as artists. At the end of the nineteenth century, Pictorialists in Europe and the Photosecessionists in America, rejected commercial values and aspired to make art with photography.

The development of this aesthetic trend in Europe and America, was supported by the many amateur photographic clubs and societies which began to exhibit and exchange finely finished photographs, and to pubicise working techniques in newsletters and photography magazines.

European and American art photography was therefore strongly influenced by the fin-de-siecle art movements including, French Impressionism, the Viennese School and the English Pre-Raphaelite Movement. There was also the example of Whistler, whose impressionist practice was influential among photographers and from further abroad Japanese prints were frequently a model for photographic composition.

The mood was as much aesthetic as didactic but according to some photography could not rank highly among the arts. Peter Henry Emerson, who had championed straight photography earlier in the century, published in 1891 "The Death of Naturalistic Photography". In this black bordered pamphlet he explained.

"The limitations of photography are so great that, though the results may and do give certain aesthetic pleasure, the medium must always rank the lowest of all of the arts... for the individuality of the artist is cramped... Control of the picture is possible to a slight degree by varied exposure; but this is working in the dark [no metering available]. But by development I doubt, I agree with Hurter and Driffield after three and a half months of careful studying of the subject. Lastly by choice of printing method. But the all vital powers of selection and rejection are fatally limited, bounded in by fixed and narrow barriers. No differential analysis can be made, no subduing of parts save by dodging - no emphasis- save by dodging and that is not pure photography. Impure photography is merely a confession of limitations... I thought once (Hurter & Driffield have taught me differently) that true values could be altered at will by development... In short I throw in my lot with those who say that photography is a very limited art. I deeply regret that I have come to this conclusion."

The New Photography

The position of photography within the arts became a burning issue, and among photographers passionate defense gave way to active campaigning. Influential for the period was the 1892 Vienna Camera Club Exhibition described as "An Exhibition exclusively of photographs judged as works of art".

Writing about the Vienna exhibition an American feature writer for The American Amateur Photographer said: "If we had in America a dignified Photographic Salon in which the only prizes should be the distinction of being admitted to the walls of the salon, we believe that our art would be greatly advanced. 'Art for Arts sake' should be the inspiring word for every camera lover."

Among painters the Viennese influence of Gustave Klimt (1862-1918), Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka (b.1886) were felt in Berlin, Paris, New York and London. The younger photographers also reacted against stuffy portraits, fake genre scenes and technical obsession.

In 1893 Alfred Lichtwark a German art historian brought the forgotten work of Hill and Adamson to public attention and identified their portraits as among the finest examples of early portrait photography. Lichtwark also enlisted support from professional and amateur photographers for his exhibition "International Exhibition of Amateur Photography" held at the Kunsthalle, Hamburg. He finally exhibited 7,000 photographs. Lichtwark commented that his reason was to "revive the dying art of portrait painting".

"Professional photographs," Lichtwark declared "were stilted, with painted backgrounds, fake columns and simulation furniture. The only good portraits were by amateurs who had economic freedom and the time to experiment.

In France the had previously produced a modest news sheet but was now publishing articles and by 1899 was declaring itself "The standard bearer of photographic art... through propaganda of exhibition." However the judging of photography at the Photo Club de Paris still rested with higher authorities, its annual Salon jury consisted of 4 painters, a sculptor, an engraver and an 'art' critic.

The New Technology

Lens and camera design was constantly improving such that a technical plateau had been reached in terms of negative quality. The period was notable for the new printing papers which replaced albumen paper and for the revival of older crafts of photographic printing. Platinum, palladium, and the carbon process were popular along with a revival of the many variations of the old processes based on bichromated gelatin.

Of particular importance was the Autotype a variation of the carbon process, which had its first practical demonstration by Sir Joseph Wilson Swan in 1864. It gave beautiful tonal description and is still the most permanent photographic process known. There were many variations on the process including special paper made by Fresson and others. Again there is a parrallel with contemporary practice in that bichromated gelatine processes have seen a similar revival since the 1960's among certain photographers.

During the 1890s the practice of photographic printing by the bromoil process was encouraged in that bichromated gelatine paper could now be bought pre-coated and ready to be sensitized in the darkroom and exposed by contact.

The principle of the bichromate processes, is that light (in the U.V. range) hardens gelatine, in the exposed areas. The softer gelatine which remains, in the shadow areas, could then be bleached or washed clear.

Gelatine, in its wetted, swollen state repels oil based inks, a principle similar to lithography. After roller application of an oil based ink onto the paper bichromated gelatine "negative", a positive print is obtained by pressing the inked negative onto watercolour paper. The process also offers the possibility of the use of multiple colours and tonal separations.

The Linked Ring

In England the photographers H.P.Robinson, George Davison, Lionel Clark, Henry Hay Cameron (son of Julia M.Cameron) and Alfred Maskell among many others, were dissatisfied with the Annual exhibitions at the Royal Photographic Society (R.P.S.) They argued that the society made no distinction between technical and commercial photographs and pictures made with artistic intent as there expressed object.

In 1892 these British photographers broke from the R.P.S. and established their own annual exhibition forming a select group known as the Brotherhood of the Linked Ring. Although prompted by the Viennese exhibitions, the Links also derived inspiration from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood who in their second phase (after 1860) looked to the poetic and decorative bias of the aesthetic movement.

Aesthetic values were fundamental to the spirit of the Linked Ring, its members thought the R.P.S. "too bound up with the science and trade of photography, to allow scope for artists." In contrast The Linked Ring were middle class men of affairs and landscape artists, who envisaged the British countryside in idyllic terms and preferred soft focus.

British Linked Ring members included:

Malcolm Arbuthnot (1874-1967) Originally apprenticed to a painter, Arbuthnot perfected a commercially successful gum bichromate process which he exhibited internationally. Arbuthnot becam a Kodak manager and was also an original signatory to Wyndham Lewis's Vorticist manifesto. During the First World War his negatives were destroyed by fire.

James Craig Annan (1864-1946), a Glasgow print publisher who also made a large number of photographs printed as gravures. In the 1890s Annan made gravure prints from Hill and Adamson's original calotype negatives. Examples of his work were published in Stieglitz's Camera Work during 1904.

Frederick Evans (1853-1943), a London bookseller who retired to the Epping Forest to pursue photography. He gave up photography after the first World War when platinum paper became unobtainable.

Alfred Horsley Hinton (1863-1906) Had an early aptitude for painting but by 1890 was exhibiting photographs. Hinton's landscape photography has largely been lost although his extensive writings on photography are extant. Hinton was Editor of Amateur Photographer until his early death aged 43.

Charles Job (c.1853-1930) Originally a stockbroker, Job made landscape photographs characteristically as brown carbon prints.

Alexander Keighley (1861-1947) Son of a Yorkshire wool mill owner, who while working in the family business made a significant body of work particularly large carbon prints.

Francis J.Mortimer (1874-1944) An exponent of straight photography, particularly of marine subjects. After Horsley Hinton's untimely death in 1906, Mortimer became editor of the Amateur Photographer. From 1912 he was also editor of Photograms of the Year.

Ward Muir (1878-1944) a writer and photographer, Muir combined writing short stories, novels and photographic articles with the practice of an impressionist and subsequently jugendstil style to his phootgraphy.


By 1893 there was the promotion of Photographic Salons, a phrase borrowed from the French "salon", which suggests works of distinction. Historically the painting salons had been for academic appraisal and were selling exhibitions . The paintings at such exhibitions were rigidly categorised as Portraits, History Paintings, Animal and Sporting pictures and Landscapes.

The major forum for photography, aside from salons and exhibition, were the amateur societies and amateur magazines. The annual publication of Photograms of the Year (1895-) reviewed the annual salon exhibitions and illustrated in gravure many of the exhibitors.

Exhibitions were hung as single frames at eye level (rather than floor to ceiling). Often vases of flowers were included or designs were drawn in pastel on the walls. Alternatively hessian covered walls and tinted mounts encouraged an aesthetic approach.

Contemporary critics were irked by the pictorialist photographers claim that "This is the new Photography". The new photographers declared in their 1895 catalogue "On the pictorial side, chemistry, optics and mechanism no longer predominate, they have become subservient and of secondary importance, very little knowledge of them is indeed in any way necessary"

In place of the naturalistic clear focus of photographers like Emerson, George Davison (1856-1930) typified the mood. A very rich Kodak executive and also an anarchist, Davison outraged the R.P.S. by his 1890 exhibit "The Onion Field" made from a pinhole negative

Emerson denounced the 'new movement', particularly the rediscovered gum bichromate process, and with reference to a George Davison photograph Emerson declared

"If pure photography is not good enough, or not 'high enough' for such as he, by all means let him become an artist and leave us alone and try not to foist fakes upon us."

Castles and Arthurian legend infuse the British work of this period, particularly in the work of James Craig Annan (1864-1946) Walter Bennington (b.1872).

Frederick Evans (1853-1943), the best known and popular photographer of the period and his architectural interiors and exteriors of English cathedrals sold well as platinum prints. He was also a landscape photographer of note and the first British photographer to be reproduced in Stieglitz's Camerawork (1903).

Other photographers like Malcolm Arbuthnot ((1874-1967) mixed the rare metal papers with the gum pigment process. In his Gum platinum prints he established a complex grid of pattern with a depth to the pigment which emulated the surface of a painting or fine art print.

Northern photographers like Alexander Keighley, were widely travelled and his landscape photographs often,made in France reflect British pictorialist values in themes of fantasy and dreams, tranquil rivers and silent pools. In later work he used a hidden camera in his photographs of middle eastern cities which demonstrate a new documentary leaning to his work.

While there was a strong link between Britain and the European salons, the most significant work of the period was often to be seen in the North of England. The establishment of the first Northern exhibition in Liverpool in 1904 was followed by Northern Exhibitions held in Leeds 1905, Manchester 1906 and Liverpool again in 1907.

As a movement pictorialism was internationally popular and it was not until the advent of the 1914-18 World War that its values were finally rejected in favour of a new European modernism.

In France Robert Demarchy (1859-1937), the son of a rich banker who from 1894 onwards specialised in gum bichromate prints which often displayed prominent brushmarks. Demarchy declared "Nature is but a theme for the artist to play upon. Straight photography registers the theme, that is all - and between ourselves it registers it indifferently." Demarchy ceased working entirely in 1914.

His compatriot, the Parisian photographer Adolf de Meyer (1868-1946) was described as "chic and stylish". Active in the artistic avant-garde. de Meyer was at one time the publicist for the Russian ballet impresario Diaghilev and in 1911 made pictures of the dancer Nijinsky.

The work of the Belgian photographer Leonard Missonne (1870-1943) was also a feature of many European salons, and demonstrated an exacting use of the oil pigment process.


Other significant British and European photographers of the period include:

Mark Oliver Dell (GB.1883-1959)

Rudolph Durkhoop (G.1848-1918)

Hugo Erfurth (G.1874-1948)

Jose Ortiz Echague (Sp.1886-1980)

Theordor and Oscar Hofmeister (G. c.1860-1943 & 1937)

Emil Otto Hoppe(G. 1878-1972)

John Dudley Johnston (GB. 1868-1955)

Charles Job (GB. 1853-1930)

Heinrich Kuehn (G.1866-1944)

Frederick J. Mortimer (GB. 1874-1944)

Ward Muir (GB.1878-1927)

Edward Warner (GB b..1880)

Agnes Warburg (GB. 1872-1953)

John Warburg (GB.1867-1931)

James Wellington (G.1858-1939)


Over the Pond

In 1887 the British Amateur Photographer magazine awarded Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), first prize of a silver medal and 2 guineas for his photograph "A Good Joke". Peter Henry Emerson was the head of the judging panel and Stieglitz, then aged 23 was a student in Germany. Emerson in tribute to Stieglitz's picture wrote

"While the picture lacked intensity it was taken directly and, honestly and without straining for effect and it was not forced into an obvious compositional pattern."

Emerson's choice was prophetic. Stieglitz the son of rich parents had left New York aged 19 to study engineering in Germany. While there he became interested in photography and learned his technique from the German photochemist Dr. H.W. Vogel.

In 1890 Stieglitz returned to America and became a champion of American photography through lectures and demonstrations. He became editor of "American Photographer" and began to use a 4x5 inch hand 'detective camera' borrowed from a friend. In 1896 he was elected vice president of the N.Y. Camera Club and transformed the club's journal into a handsome periodical "Camera Notes" which contained superb gravure reproductions and critical reviews.

Salons were becoming annual fixtures bringing recognition to younger photographers including.

Edward Steichen (1879-1973)

Clarence H. White (1871-1925)

Alvin Langdon Coburn (1882-1966)

George H. Seeley (1880-1955)

Their style, influenced by Japanese prints and the paintings of James Mcneill Whistler, used soft focus and strong compositions with deep shadows and brilliant highlights. Stieglitz defended their choice of method saying

"the result is the only fair basis for judgement. It is justifiable to use any means upon a negative or paper to attain the desired end."

... "Some of the most maligned prints, generally considered fakes, are in fact nothing more than 'straight photography' from beginning to end."

In 1902 Stieglitz declares the new movement among American photographers as the Photosecession, when asked

"What is the photosecession?" Stieglitz replied

"In Europe, Germany and Austria there have been splits in artistic circles and the moderns call themselves 'Secessionists'... so Photosecession really hitches up [photography] with the art world."

The desire of the photosecessionists was to achieve for photography, recognition for its status as fine art.The official organ of the movement was the journal Camerawork (1903-17). With its fine gravure reproductions Camerawork set a new standard for photographic publications.

The first issue in 1903 was devoted to Gertrude Kasebier (1853-1934) who had begun photography after first raising her family. In 1897 age 45 she opened her first studio and made platinum, Gum bichromate, gum platinum, bromoil and silver prints.

The second issue of Camerawork featured Edward Steichen (1879-1973)

Subsequently Stieglitz would publish in Camerawork the work of American photographers including:

Paul Strand (1890-1976)

Edward Weston (1886-1958)

Anne Brigman (1869-1950)

also the FRENCH and ITALIAN artists including; Henri Matisse, Picasso, Brancusi, Man Ray, Robert Demarchy, Francis Picabia.

BRITISH artists wre also frequent contributors including; HG Wells, Alvin Langdon Coburn, James Craig Annan, George Davison and Frederick Evans

By 1910 Stieglitz's eclectic and diverse approach to exhibition programming at 291 resulted in accusations of being "disaffected". Stieglitz replied that "Photography should take its place [along with the other arts]"

In 1913 for the first time Stieglitz exhibited his own photographs at 291, in the same year he wrote in a 291 catalogue, what in retrospect was a volte face from his earlier open minded position about what constituted photography:

"Photographers must learn not to be ashamed to have their photographs look like photographs. A smudge in gum has less value, from an aesthetic point of view, than a tin type."

Stieglitz also demonstrated a profound mystical element in his work during the 1920's. His cloud studies which he described as "Equivalents", were photographs of formal statement which could also be read as illustrative of mood and emotion. It would however be the new generation of American photographers Edward Weston(1886-1958), Paul Strand (1890-1970) and Walker Evans (1903-1975) who would embrace the new modernism which was already evident in Europe.

In England the Linked Ring collapsed in 1910 and was replaced by the London Salon, but the outbreak of the First World War was the end of a romantic era and the beginning of a new hard edged modernism.

Among the signficant American Photosecessionists at the beginning of the twentieth century, the following can be considered as representative

Clarence H,. White (1871-1925), taught Margaret Bourke White, Dorothea Lange and Paul Outerbridge.A founder member of the Photosecession of 1902 White sometimes used a pin hole camera for soft focus effect. He made Platinum, Palladium, Gum Bichromate and sometimes in his early work used pencil and white ink.

Frank Eugene (1865-1936),although born in the USA he moved to Munich, Germany, where he trained as a painter, he was also a skilled etcher.Eugene's work "has the sort of pagan subject favoured at the time by such Northern painters as Arnold Bocklin" (Jeffrey 1981)

Anne Brigman (1869-1950),"A relative latecomer who worked in California in 1903. She made many pictures of nereids and dryads in expressive poses by trees, rocks and water with tiles like "Dawn","Soul of the Blasted pine" and "The Cleft of the Rock". (Jeffrey 1981)

Joseph T. Keiley (1869-1914),a close friend of Stieglitz, a historian of the secession and also a member of the British Linked Ring.

George H. Seeley (1880-1955)was a painter and photographer with deep religious convictions, lived all of his life in Massachusetts.

Frederick Holland Day (1864-1933)a book publisher who lived in Boston. In 1890 he organised "The New School of American Photography"

Alvin Langdon Coburn (1882-1966),encouraged by F.Holland Day, Coburn came to England and made many celebrity portraits published as "Men of Mark". A member of the Photosecession and the Linked Ring he was strongly influenced by Whistler and the Italian Vorticists. Coburn became involved with the Order of Masons and Druid sects which led him finally to settle in Wales. Coburn made Platinum, Gum Bichromate, Cyanotypes, Silver prints, Autochromes and Photogravures.


Further Reading

Harker M.F.(1979)

Newhall B (1964)

Newhall N.(1978)

Taylor (1978)



History of Photography

Dr. Peter Hagerty (PhD)