Thursday, March 25, 2010

Pictorialism and the Linked Ring

The ideas of Newton, Rejlander, Robinson, and Emerson—while seemingly varied—all pursued the same goal: to gain acceptance for photography as a legitimate art form.

These efforts to gain acceptance were all encompassed within Pictorialism, a movement that had been afoot for some time and that crystallized in the 1890s and early 1900s, when it was promoted through a series of international exhibiting groups.

The term Pictorialism is used to describe photographs in which the actual scene depicted is of less importance than the artistic quality of the image. Pictorialists would be more concerned with the aesthetics and, sometimes, the emotional impact of the image, rather than what actually was in front of their camera.

Because pictorialism was seen as artistic photography, one would not be surprised that current styles of art would be reflected in their work; as impressionism was in vogue at the time, many photographs have more than a passing resemblance to paintings in this style.

In 1892 the Brotherhood of the Linked Ring was founded in Britain by Robinson, George Davison, a leader of the Art Nouveau movement, and others dissatisfied with the scientific bias of the London Photographic Society.

The group held annual exhibitions, which they called salons. While the members’ work varied from naturalism to staged scenes to manipulated prints, by the turn of the century it was their united belief that “through the Salon the Linked Ring has clearly demonstrated that pictorial photography is able to stand alone and that it has a future entirely apart from that which is purely mechanical.”

Similar Pictorialist groups formed in other countries. These included the Photo-Club of Paris, the Trifolium of Austria, and like associations in Germany and Italy. Unity of purpose enabled members to exchange ideas and images with those who had similar outlooks in other countries.

Another pictorialist photographer from the time is Robert Demachy, who was lucky enough to be born into a rich Parisian family and not have to worry about making a living, just art.

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