Photography As Fine Art: A view from the front lines—1901

PHOTOGRAPHY AS A FINE ART

CHAPTER I

The Development And Present Status Of The

Photograph

With Photographic Examples From The Earliest Portrait
To The Works Of J. Crah; Annan*

AN photography be reckoned among the fine
arts ?

The great French painter, Paul Delaroche, seeing an example of Daguerre’s new light-pictures, is said to have exclaimed, ” Painting is dead.” So far the prophecy has not been fulfilled; and it is safe to say that painting has less to fear from the competition of photography than from its

* Mr. Annan, a Scotchman, is one of the most versatile and artistic of European photographers, a man of forceful personality, who has had a powerful influence in the development of pictorial photography.
[graphic]

own over-productiveness. The interest of the remark, therefore, consists in this—that Delaroche instinctively recognized in the new invention qualities and possibilities which would ultimately bring it within the pale of the other fine arts. It is a belief that has been cherished by photographers from the start, and it is the object of the present article to trace, first, the development of this belief into practice, and then to consider the possibilities and limitations of photography for picturemaking and the salient characteristics of picture-photography a:aimed at or reached by the advanced photographers.

It is not always good to be heralded into the world with aflourish of trumpets, and the exaggerated expectations which the public formed regarding Daguerre’s invention aroused the suspicion and animosity of the painters. This changed to contemptuous indifference as it began to be understood that photography had its limitations. The pendulum had swung to the opposite extreme, the art side was ignored and the process dismissed into the limbo of chemistry and mechanics. The one attitude was as unreasonable as the other, JjVloreover, photography as an art fell upon evil times; it was seized and exploited for moneyed ends, and its artistic possibilities became obscured by commercialism. With the usual interacting of cause and effect, the photographers aimed to please the public, and the latter accepted their work as representative of the art at its best. Dip into the family album of twenty-five years ago ; you will see the mediocrity that prevailed under these conditions^ Here and there a print will record a good likeness; but, for the most part, appear examples of persons, posed in painful attitudes, amid surroundings execrable in their ugliness; the faces purged of every blemish and presenting surfaces as smooth and unlifelike as a fresh cake of soap. Or one’s researches may be carried further into that realm of bathos, peopled with the make-believes of the pictorial photographer ; models, clad in cheese-cloth,masquerading as angels, madonnas, fairies or classic heroines, or Lthe thousand and on “creations” of the uncultivated photographer, who either had no sense of humor or carried his tongue in his cheek at the credulity of the public. Yet it would be unjust to dwell too insistently on these points, still more so to saddle photography with the entire responsibility for its own shortcomings. The period under notice was one of banality in all the arts. A few names of painters and sculptors stand out as eminences, but for the most part the two arts showed a dead-level of mediocrity. This is as true of Europe, with its uninterrupted traditions, as of America, which was just commencing its art-consciousness. And it is equally true to say that, although higher standards are now understood and recognized, a vast mass of pictures and sculpture is still annually produced which has no reason for existence except that it is made to sell. Its motive is commercial, and commercialism its only justification. But both these arts have a noble past and dignified traditions, which a faithful few are resolute to maintain, while gaged in establishing its dignity and in storing for itself traditions. All the while a few enthusiasts, disregarding the allurements of popularity and full of belief in the possibilities of their craft, have steadily worked to produce photogr

aphs which s

hall appeal to the cultivated judgment as truly pictures.

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