The exquisite exactness of which photography is uniquely capable is missing. Due to the soft-focus approach, we couldn’t tell if she has wrinkles, we can see that she is wearing rings but we couldn’t identify them like how we can in a perfect photograph. Hence Mrs Jameson’s force of spirit is rendered in tones rather than in details.
Julia Margaret Cameron’s credo is clearly represented in the photograph, titled Prayer. Her out-of-focus treatment of a child in a posture of prayer in intended to transcend the real – the absence of detail moves the subject into the realm of the ideal. We are not looking at the subject but the pictorial manifestation of prayer itself.
The explosive growth in amateur photography that followed these technical developments led to the so-called Secessionist movement. Central to it was the Pictorialists’ belief that personal expression is the purpose of photography rather than a literal depiction of the world. One of the key figures in this movement is Alfred Stieglitz, who founded the Photo-Secession Group and also the quarterly publication – Camera Work.
In this photo, The Street – Design for Poster 1896, Stieglitz transformed an ordinary street scene into a beautiful thing, with atmosphere taking precedence over detail and description. The seemingly casualness of this photograph however, is carefully staged with a precise arrangement of pictorial elements in the frame to enhance our appreciation of the scene.
In The Terminal 1893, the emphasis is on man and his horses, dealing with the cold weather. The snow gave a romantic quality to the image. What Stieglitz commented about this photograph is – “A driver I saw tenderly caring for his steaming car horses in a snow-covered street came to symbolize for me my own growing awareness that unless what we do is born of sacred feeling, there can be no fulfilment in life.”
Stieglitz was a complex man. He devoted his life to a fight for the recognition of photography as a fine art, and for much of his life he came to consider photography as “an entire philosophy and way of life – a religion. Stieglitz wrote in 1913: “It will be thirty years that I have been in harness trying to give photography, the idea of photography its place… of course back of this so-called “Photographic Fight” of mine there is something bigger than appears on the surface of things.”
Pictorialism’s reign as the dominant approach to art photography was relatively short-lived. In the final issue of Camera Work in June 1917, Stieglitz devoted all the illustrations to Paul Strand, an American photographer and filmmaker.
In this photo titled Wall Street 1916, Strand photographed the recently completed monolithic structure belonging to JP Morgan that symbolized the power of big business. Strand wrote about this photograph – “I was aware for instance of those big, black windows of the Morgan building, these enormous black shapes.. I also was fascinated by all these little people walking by these great big sinister, almost threatening shapes.. those black, repetitive rectangular shapes.. sort of blind shapes, because you can’t see in, with people going by. I tried to pull that all together.” This photo constituted a powerful abstract expression of Strand’s personal emotional response to his observed oppression by Wall Street institutions.
Strand’s response to Wall Street appealed to Stieglitz. Stieglitz felt that Strand photographs are those related to life in its fullest aspect, which intimately related to the spirit of 291.
Strand’s photographic street portraits are uncompromising and brutally direct. The photographs were taken with camera rigged with a false lens to distract attention, ensure the subject did not know they were being photographed, these images often came out raw and able to capture moments in the lives of those who are struggling to survive. Strand pushed the boundaries of photographic portraiture beyond traditional portraiture of the time. Instead of portraying them as outcasts, Strand managed to depict them as people who struggle but retain dignity.
This photograph shares the straightforward look and feel of Italian Neo-Realist films, which dramatized the lives of regular characters through frank naturalism. Structured around portraits of villagers identified simply by their role in the community, it is a profound expression of photographer’s relationship to everyday life.
The directness that had so impressed Stieglitz which he thought that it was the very essence of photography. Stieglitz’s support for the photography of Paul Strand crystallized the new approach to the medium, and the change could also be seen in his own photographs. Stieglitz took a number of photographs from the back window at 291 which he described as “straight photography”. This image focuses on a snow-covered tree after a storm with the clarity of the patterns of light and dark.
His work became more introspective as years went by – a way for him to overcome tragic events in his life. This photo titled Apples and Gable of the Farm, in Rain was taken during the summer when Stieglitz’s mother was dying. The rain or the apples were viewed as symbolic teardrops as Stieglitz had difficulties expressing his grief and instead poured himself into his work, where he used significant physical objects in his immediate environment to express an emotional state. The same goes to the photo titled The Dying Chestnut Tree.
Stieglitz’s series of cloud photographs, which he called Equivalents, were made in a similar spirit. The cloud pictures were unmanipulated portraits of the sky that functioned as analogues of Stieglitz’s emotional experience at the moment he snapped the shutter.
A thought for everyone to ponder about.. What makes the difference between an artistic photograph and a REAL photograph? Is it manipulation? Today we inhabit a world still in need of beauty and truth and still perplexed by the complex relationships between art and the real that photography embodies. Digital technologies further help to blur the lines. Edward Steichen once said that every photograph is fake from start to finish and a purely unmanipulated photograph being practically impossible.The minute we pick up our camera, compose our picture, control the time exposure, it isn’t real anymore. A quote by Stieglitz – “in photography there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality”. Just like Edward Weston’s pepper, the intensity of the photographed object being enlarged to reveal invisible details of structure and surface surpasses our unaided vision of the real thing.
Hope you enjoyed our presentation or learnt something from it! 🙂
– Rochele, Sabrina & Emma.
I was intrigued by the question “Do all four legs of the horse leave the ground when the horse moves quickly?”, which is also the reason why Muybridge was then imprinted in my mind. It’s mind-blowing to realize that such an uncomplicated question could directly or indirectly impacted the art scene or even the role of human perception.
I particularly love how there’s a deeper meaning behind Muybridge’s panorama series. It wasn’t just a snap-and-go kind of thing. The vantage point (California Street Hill) was carefully selected. It was an ideological point of view, providing a commanding vista over the burgeoning metropolis, the distant hills and suburbs, and the busy port bristling with the masts of sailing ships. The panoptic view of the city offered a voyeuristic experience of life at the crest of California Street Hill for the common people, but at the same time, a reaffirmation of the wealthy’s’ domination.
Below is the Panorama of San Francisco from California Street Hill :
I chose to work on the rendition of Eadweard Muybridge’s panoramic vision because that’s the one I feel most connected with in my daily pursuit when it comes to photography work – cityscapes. Obviously I couldn’t get hold of mammoth plates or 40-inch telephoto lens like how Muybridge composed his series of panoramas, hence, I captured the view in parts and stitched them up altogether in Photoshop!
Had some minor issues with colour difference and also parts that just won’t connect properly but the results look pretty alright! Not to forget the fact that they are NOT taken via the iPhone panorama feature!!!
With the help of Photoshop, I managed to give them a vintage look^
Besides, I have also tried the which Muybridge filed a patent after realising the medium’s limitation in capturing the perfect exposure. He exposed his film separately for the sky and the subject below in order to gain the definition between land and sky. Sky Shade,
Muybridge’s Sky Shade:
Below are the two shots I took. The sky looks less defined (left) but the greenery has more details in it. On the other hand, the clouds are clearer in the darker photo (right)
Masking tool helps to create a more refined image which captures all the details for both the sky and land!