Sunday, 27 February 2011

19th century 'photoshop' and what IS photography? Part 1

Just spent another enjoyable couple of hours listening to Jeff Curto's History of Photography podcast. This one was the second part of a two-part survey, a fast trip through the history of photography, attempting to get a handle on who did what, when they did it and how it happened. It starts in around 1880 and finishes up in the 1990s.
There were some iconic images which made it a very pleasant way to spend the late afternoon. Here is part 1 of my lecture notes so to speak:

Problems around 1880:

  • speed
  • size of prints
  • proper use?
  • colour (lack of)
  • spectral sensitivity
The biggest issue then was: what is photography?; what was it for?; Was it an art form?; should it try to look like a painting? Gustave Le Gray made a multiple print in 1865 to try to make his picture look more like a painting. Oscar Gustave Rejlander in 1837 made, what reminded me of images by David LaChapelle, pictures that looked like allegorical paintings, such as The Two Ways of Life, by using many negatives printed onto a large sheet of photographic paper. 
Another example of what could seen as 19th century 'photoshop' or manipulations - Henry Peach Robinson

Realism began replacing contrived shots with people like Peter Henry Emerson working in the 1880s.

Pictoralism remained though. An example of alterations to the chemicals used in the image process by Robert Demachy (1888) to simulate paint or scratches on the negative by Frank Eugene to give the impression of drawing.

Iconoclast Alfred Stieglitz (working 1880-1940) championed photography as an art form. His masterpiece 'Steerage' 1902.

The class then heard about the group called photo-secession. Edward Steichen, Gertrude Kasebier and Imogen Cunningham were sited as examples.
Gertrude Kasebier's portrait of Evelyn Nesbit:

Imogen Cunningham's 'arms'

The next part will have links for and examples of photographers with a social conscience, Group f/64, Bauhaus, Dada and Surrealism and 'change agents' that moved photography in different directions from its centre. 

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