Friday, February 27, 2015

A Conversation About Photography:Pictorialism

 Lake Agnes, September, 1989

Pictorialism…."in general it refers to a style in which the photographer has somehow manipulated what would otherwise be a straightforward photograph as a means of "creating" an image rather than simply recording it." ( wikipedia ) 

Technicism in photography."refers to a modern day approach to photography that has a predominant reliance on technology and technical knowledge as primary benefactors to making pictures as a whole. This is associated directly with photographic equipment and accessories including, cameras, lenses, computers and related software etc." ( my own definition ) 

Straight Photography or Pure Photography.…"is defined as possessing no qualities of technique, composition or idea, derivative of any other art form." ( wikipedia ) 

 I fully acknowledge that this blog post is about my own ideas and theories that may or may not be relevant, but never the less I humbly present them here as part of my "conversation" series about photography.

  Back in the 1930's there was a new style of photography emerging called "straight photography" overriding pictorialism, Of course things are much different today, although I think straight photography is more demanding of the photographer, there is no technical tricks to fall back on when a straight photograph fails. I think some of photography that I see on around the web including photo sharing is what I call "technicism", where a photographer relies heavily on technique to make photographs. These techniques are often learned and copied by others,  this never encourages individual creativity. Finding one's "vision"is the hard part and I humbly submit that I am earnestly working on that, reading the above definition of straight photography, keeps me challenged!  I think the art of vision or "seeing" can take a life time to find. I'm not saying that straight photography is better, I'm sure there are plenty of straight photographs that are plenty boring. In my mind it seems that with pictorialism, it was more or less formulated, follow the technical formula and you have a pictorialist style of photograph, except today it all done with photoshop.

  When straight photography or pure photography started to gain traction, all the finest photographers that we know and love today, including Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and others started to create their work in straight photographic style, they even formed a group called the F64 Group. Interestingly quite a number of those photographers including Adams and Weston had photographed in the pictorialist style earlier on in their careers. In 1927 Adams produced a new portfolio featuring his new straight photography style which included his famous image "Monolith, the Face of Half Dome", taken with his view camera using glass plates and a dark red filter. On that hiking trip, he "visualized" the effect of the blackened sky. He later said "I had been able to realize a desired image: not the way the subject appeared in reality but how it felt to me and how it must appear in the finished print".

  Maybe I'm wrong ( could very well be ) straight approach to  photography has taken a back seat to a kind of modern day version of pictorialism  which seems to dominate so many photo sharing sites. One of the most recent discoveries in photography is the photographs of the late Vivian Maier, who made compelling street photographs in a straight kind of style in the 1950's and 1960's. Her work wasn't about technique, ( although she had very fine technique ), but more importantly, she saw "the thing itself " as Edward Weston liked to say in the subjects that she photographed. People really like her work as do I.

  For myself when I take a pictures I try to balance my vision and my technique ( lighting, camera and lens ) and together in the right balance I hope to produce a fine photograph.

  One thought to end on, Edward Weston often mentioned "the thing itself". He writes in his Daybooks (p.55), "that the camera should be used for the recording of life, for rendering the very substance and quintessence of the thing itself, whether polished steel or palpitating flesh." So I ask this: are any photographers looking for "the thing itself" these days? or is it all about technique and the latest camera gear? One thing I can say about Edward Weston, for him it was always about "the thing itself" that he loved the most. 

In many ways I think that straight photography is a stripped down version of pictorialism, just the bare essentials, a "less is more" kind of photography. 

For further reading and insight, take a look at Edward Weston's essay called "Photography - Not 

More reading and insight, here is a link to some of Ansel Adam's work on Artsy

Here is a link to my earlier blog post: A Conversation About Landscape Photography

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