Pictorialism is the name by which
the first 'art movement' in photography was known. It began when
a group of British photographers
dissatisfied with the Photographic Society of Great Britain's
support for new ideas about the artistic potential of the medium.
favoured the scientific and commercial applications of photography
which had dominated in the 1880's.
Technical advances in photography
had initiated the era of the amateur snapshooter and the Kodak
'You press the button - We do
the rest' formula. However, a new class of amateur, often financially
able to devote time to their hobby, wished to do the opposite.
They were interested in making expressive pictures by the camera.
In 1892 a group led by George Davison and other members of the
Photographic Society of Great Britain seceded to form the Linked
Ring Brotherhood and began a photographic salon of their own.
new art photography was stylistically dependent on a mixture of
impressionism, naturalism and art nouveau. It spread
until by 1903, it was possible to form an International Society
of Pictorial Photographers. The formation of the Photo-Secession
in 1902 by American Alfred Stieglitz saw the leadership of the
movement pass out of British hands. By 1909 the Linked Ring had
dissolved and Stieglitz had rejected the pictorial concept of art
photography as confusing 'art likeness with art'. Pictorialism
as an avant garde had finished by 1914. By the 1920's many alternative,
more purely photographic concepts of expressive photography had
been developed in the work of photographers like Paul Strand, Edward
Weston and Henri Cartier Bresson. Pictorialism came to be seen
as a blind alley. It was felt that to achieve respectability as
an art, pictorial photography had betrayed the inherent realism
of the camera.
Australian photographers were
generally unaware of the directions taken by the Photo-Secession
or the alternative styles of the 1920's. It appears that no copies
of Camera Work, the Photo-Secession journal, reached Australia,
other than one of July 1909 in Harold Cazneaux's possession. Australians
relied on British magazines such as the Amateur Photographer and
the annual Photograms of the Year for their knowledge of new trends.
Both publications became increasingly conservative from the time
of the breakaway by the PhotoSecessionists.
Australia the formation of photographic journals for the amateur
market was the foundation for pictorial photography. In 1892 the
first volume of Harrington's Photographic Journal (H.P.J.), was
published in which short articles on 'art-versus-photography' appeared
from time to time. In 1894 when the Australasian Photo-Review
(A.P.R.) was launched readers were able to follow the controversies in Britain
over the new art photography. Both magazines were published by
photographic firms and gave their attention to either professionals
or snapshooters. By the turn of the century the artistic amateur
had begun to oust the professional as the star attraction for the
less gifted hobby amateurs.
The first issue of
the A.P.R. had called for the formation of a photographic society
in Sydney and the Photographic Society of N.S.W. (New South Wales)
was duly established in 1894. Older societies existed and others
followed. It was through the monthly competitions and annual exhibitions
of such societies that the new group, the pictorialists, emerged
within the next few years. In particular the South Australian Photographic
Society (S.A.) and one of its members John Kauffmann, are credited
with introducing pictorial photography in 1898. Such was the claim
in Jack Cato's The Story of the Camera in Australia (1955) based
on information from Harold Cazneaux, and Leslie H. Beer's introduction
to The Art of John Kauffmann (1919). Between 1950-52 Cazneaux wrote
many letters to Cato concerning the history of photography in Australia.
Cazneaux often referred to how he had been inspired to take up
art photography by seeing the work of John Kauffmann and David
Blount, an English pictorialist, at the international salon of
the S.A. Photographic Society around 1897-98.
would have been able to see work by Kauffmann in 1897 but the society
did not hold international salons until 1902-3. Kauffmann had returned
from ten years in Europe studying photography in 1897 and joined
the .S.A. Photographic Society. He exhibited work independently
at Baker & Rouse showrooms in Adelaide and Sydney in 1897 and
at the local and interstate photographic societies' annual salons.
Kauffmann's work won medals at these exhibitions and was, more
significantly, given enthusiastic reviews in the newspapers. The Australian
Star of October 8, 1897 praised Kauffmann's work as
'some of the most perfect everseern and described the 'delicate
tones and tints' as 'clear and truly artistic'. Other notices were
on similar lines and suggest that there was no earlier photographer's
work to compare with the new arrival. Certainly the extent of the
press coverage of a photographer's work seems unprecedented.
1901 Kauffmann was invited to judge the S.A. Photographic Society's
annual salon. The Register of October 1, declared it the finest
ever seen with some works being'mistaken for works of art', owing
to the absence of 'all the sharp and hard lines usually associated
with photography'. Kauffmann was no longer the sole exponent of
a new and obviously impressionistic style.
S.A. Photographic Society was encouraged by the success of the
1901 salon to hold the first international salons in 1902 and 1903.
The international content was largely the work of David Blount,
a rising British pictorialist with successes at the London Salon.
Blount worked in gum bichromates, one of the new printing processes
favoured by pictorialists, which was capable of giving a very graphic,
impressionistic effect to the image as well as a surface like a
Whether Kauffmann was directly responsible
for the appearance of pictorial photography is not certain. The
Adelaide art scene was already in favour of impressionism in painting.
No other pictorial work earlier than Kauffmann's has been located
though a contemporary, Fred Radford of Adelaide, had a work entitled
'An Impressionist Photo' illustrated in the Photograms
of the Year 1899 and wrote an article 'Impressionist Photography' in the A.P.R. of the same year. Radford's style was more exaggerated soft focus,
and impressionistic than Kauffmann's who worked in a naturalistic,
but atmospheric style at this time.
1903 the Photographic Society of N.S.W. eclipsed the S.A. society's
with an international salon which included the work of Edouard
Steichen as well as Blount. Artists such as Sid Long now reviewed
the salons in the A.P.R. and H.P.J. Pictorialism
was sufficiently widespread for the editorial of the December A.P.R. to note the
'old friends from the fuzzy wuzzy school'. The Victorian Amateur
Photographic Association held an interstate salon with a loan
collection of pictorial work from The Royal Photographic Society
in 1905. The A.P.R. review in the February issue attributed
the dominance of the 'art aspect' to the effect of such books
P. Robinson's Pictorial Effect in Photography (1869). Both
Cato and Cazneaux referred to the following decade as the era
tone atmospheric style - the 'fuzzy wuzzy' era.
1911 the Photographic Society of N.S.W. held a large salon and
even larger ones in 1912 and 1917 entitled 'Australian Pictorial
Photography'. An important feature of these years was the appearance
of one-man shows beginning with Harold Cazneaux's in 1909, H. Cartwright,
T. C. Cummins and John Kauffmann in 1910 and Norman Deck in 1912.
Cazneaux had a second show in 1912 and Kauffmann in 1914 (shown
in Sydney and Melbourne).
1917 however, at the annual salon of the Photographic Society
of N.S.W. a reaction
had begun against the low tone impressionism in photography.
The editorial and review by Syd Ure Smith, in the December 1917
of the A.P.R., complained at the limitations of copying
the effects of the traditional arts and called for more 'photographic'
The Sydney Camera Circle (of which Ure Smith was an associate
member) had already been formed in late 1916. The aim of the
to get photography out of the rut of low tone and to develop
a real Australian pictorial photography with 'Australian sunshine'
not 'English mists'. Two earlier groups, the Melbourne Camera
of 1902 and the Victorian Pictorial Workers Society (1914),
were similar in their dedication to raising the standard of
photography but were not so nationalistic. All three had membership
by invitation only and were modelled on The Linked Ring.
Camera Circle was formed by James Stening, Harold Cazneaux, Cecil
Bostock, James Paton and W. S.
White, all members of the Photographic Society of N.S.W. and
all concerned with the declining vitality of the work at exhibitions.
The original six members were soon joined by another dozen by
end of 1917. The 'Circle' was most active and successful around
1920-21 when they won a medal at the Amateur Photographer Colonial
competition and exhibited at the London Salon and Scottish Salon.
As well, an exhibition of 'Circle' members' work was shown at
the Kodak Salon in 1921. It was reviewed under the title 'The Artists
of the Camera Circle' by Alek Sass in the A.P.R. in the February
issue. Perhaps stimulated by the 'Circle', the Photographic Society
of N.S.W. held a big exhibition in 1922 when it was decided to
form an Australian Salon to match the London Salon.
W Bostock, Nude Study 1915-1917, cat no 2
Monte Luke, Gavotte
1926/1929, cat no 67
The Australian Salon was formed and held exhibitions in 1924 and
1926 which were accompanied by elaborate catalogues designed and
edited by Cecil Bostock and titled 'Cameragraphs'. The Salon however
did not become annual and leadership passed to the Victorian Salon
after it was formed in 1929. A second Melbourne Camera Club formed
in 1933 by Clive Stuart Tompkins and others was largely responsible
for maintaining regular salons.
In 1928 the Royal
Photographic Society showed an exhibition of Australian Pictorial
Photography. It was a long desired recognition of national success
but came as the pictorial movement in Australia was about to be
overtaken by a younger generation interested in the 'new objectivity'
in European photography. Many of the original amateurs in pictorial
photography had become professionals like Cazneaux, Bostock, Kauffmann
and Morris. To a certain extent their clients' taste for modern
clear lines and geometric shapes encouraged them to expand their
pictorial vocabulary. Cazneaux produced a remarkable series of
pictures beginning with images such as 'Martin Place' (cat no 23)
and ending with his industrial pictures which welded the romantic
atmospheric effect of pictorialism with the angles and dramatic
forms of the new era. Kauffmann who was considered old fashioned
by 1920 also produced surprisingly modern close-up floral studies
and used industrial and everyday objects in a way very different
from the usual pictorialist picturesque composition.
in art, however, had been well known from the early twenties. Jean
Curlewis writing in the Sydney Number of Australia Beautiful, The
Home Pictorial Annual of 1928 commented on the contemporary transition
from the old to a new machine age and asked whether “in a
year or two hence we shall lead our visitors to Walsh Bay or Darling
Island and bid them mark the pattern of bold masses and intricate
detail made against the sky by wheat silos.”
1932 Max Dupain had begun a series of formal studies of Pyrmont
wheat silos which were totally alien to the pictorialists'
eyes. Pictorialism became in that instance a period style with
an arbitrary definition of what
constituted art. It was no longer synonymous with art photography.
Cazneaux, Razzle Dazzle 1908, cat no 18
W H. Moffitt, Boats - Berowra Creek c.1930's,
cat no 81
of course the pictorial concept of art photography had been superseded
by the actions of Alfred Stieglitz and the Photo Secession as early
as 1909. By 1930 a concept of abstract form in photography had
arrived in Australia from largely German influence through Das
Deutsche Lichtbild annuals. Stieglitz had shown Paul Strand's abstract
images in 1917 in the last issues of Camera Work - the Photo Secession
journal which had first shown the best pictorial work.
1938 The Contemporary Camera Groupe (sic) was formed as an alliance
of artists and photographers interested in progression. Cazneaux,
Bostock and Morris were members along with Max Dupain, Laurie Le
Guay and Damien Parer and others. Bostock designed the catalogue
but the foreword strikes a passionate note not known in pictorial
circles: "We hate the cliché, and would drive a wedge between
stagnant orthodoxy and original thought of the living moment." Earlier
the same year the photographic societies had organised a vast international
salon to mark the 150th Anniversary of the foundation of Australia.
The subtitle, the 'Finest Exhibition of Modern Photography', caused
Dupain to protest in a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald that
the European section did not represent photographers like Man Ray
and Moholy Nagy and expressed no contemporary spirit of 'modern
adventure and research', but was photography designed 'to soothe
the nerves after a weary day at the office' (S.M.H. March 30).
Pictorialism, which had been started by passionate
amateurs, had become the province of part time photographers
unwilling to allow their hobby to disturb their life or emotions.