I've been struggling with it a lot recently. There are so many talented people in this industry. It's easy to look at every single one as competition, but the fact is, they're not! Each has their own specific style, and does things their own specific way. This reflection led me to reminiscing about my art school days, which brought to mind a comment one of my classmates made during a critique during our photo history class. For al that I am loud and brash and love bright colors, there's a lot of the pictorialists in my photos. For example, this one:
Or this one here:
(Both were shot on 4x5 film with a self built pinhole camera and printed in the darkroom)
Pictorialism? What is that? Way back in the dawn of photography, photos were made on heavyweight art paper. The emulsions (the light sensitive solution) were painted on by had or coated with a glass rod. As film was developed, toward the end of the 19th century, photographers started constructing images. Some were simply exploring light and dark (or chiaroscuro), some created fanciful scenes, others simply explored the human body and the world around them. The one unifying factor is the soft, dream-like effect of these images.
Some of the most famous artists of the 20th century actually began as pictorialists. Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Edward Steichen and Edward Weston all have their roots in it. They moved on to other styles and other work, as artists do, but you can still see the hints of it here and there in their work.
Here's one of Imogen Cunningham's (who happens to be one of my favorite photographers ever!):
What does that have to do with modern photography? We all use digital, right? Well, the thing is, the camera is just a tool. No matter whether you're using film or digital, the fact is , we all see the world in a unique way. One of the ways I've always seen the world is a bit dreamy, sometimes dreary, sometimes so bright and colorful it hurts your eyes. No matter how I try, those razor sharp edges just never seem to happen. I always err toward capturing it as I see it as opposed to what my camera sees. My camera has always been an extension of my hand, eyes and brain, with certain settings always coming to the fore. Pictorialism isn't about documenting exactly what's out there, it's about creating an image. It's about intention. It's about feeling and daydreaming and all sorts of wonderful things. I like the feel of it, the idea that instad of spot on everything, I'm allowed to ignore a few things and go with my gut.
This summer I'll be exploring my beloved film world a bit more. Right now I have no darkroom, no enlarger, just a basement and some knowledge on non-silver, contact printing techniques. This summer I'm going to attempt to capture my inner pictorialist.
This is the first in a series of short articles I'll be posting on photo history.