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Based on text from the original book: Shades of Light: Photography and Australia 1839-1988
Gael Newton, 1988 Australian National Gallery



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A professional tour in search of the picturesque

On 2 February 1886, Nicholas Caire recorded the purpose of his visit to Lake Tyers Mission Station in the visitors’ book as a professional tour in search of the picturesque’(1). Nicholas Caire (1837-1918) had been working for the past two years as a specialist landscape photographer, having previously had a portrait and views studio in the Royal Arcade, Melbourne. Originally a hairdresser, Caire had received his first training in photography in Duryea’s studio in Adelaide and set up his own studio there in 1867, before moving to Bendigo to take advantage of the business generated by the goldfields. Caire’s evolution from studio portraiture to working as a roving photographer catering to a taste for the picturesque, reflects patterns evident in the development of photography in these years(2).

J.W.Lindt was also at work in 1886, in Melbourne preparing his book Picturesque New Guinea for publication in London. In the same years Fred Kruger (1831-1888), another German-born photographer, living in Geelong in Victoria, published a portfolio of original photographs titled Fine Art Photographs of Victoria(3). Like Caire, Kruger had first been a tradesman an upholsterer and had changed to photography in the I860s, opening a studio in Melbourne in 1866.

Kruger had moved from Melbourne to the port of Geelong on the south coast of Victoria in 1879, and his portfolio contained a range of attractive scenes of the area. One of these, Coast scene, Mordialloc Creek, near Cheltenhani, has a foreground enlivened by a group of ladies and gentlemen fishing. Contemporary viewers are struck by the similarity of the image to the classic picnic scene on the Maine River in France taken in 1938 by renowned documentary photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson (b.1908). A number of Kruger’s photographs show people deployed through the landscape with fishing poles. A set of poles may have been one of his props. A consistent aspect of these images is the depiction of a landscape of recreation and the attempts to place the figures intimately within the scene.

John Lindt’s New Guinea work was similarly marked by the natural and relaxed grouping of figures deep in their environment. Nicholas Caire also made a series of genre scenes from the late 1870s, of characters living a life of voluntary retreat in the bush. They show idyllic landscape views in which a town dweller might relax in safety and comfort.

As the pioneer days came to an end, the wave of pastoral expansion declined, sending people back into the cities. The bush and bushmen were romanticised in literature and the arts. The new city dwellers no longer conducted a daily fight for survival but could afford to approach the landscape as a source of recreation and renewal of the spirit(4). Caire sought out genuine hermits and bushmen in areas not far from Melbourne, or created tableaux of his own by placing figures picnicking, resting, reading, and camping in the bush.

One picture taken in 1883 of a swagman sheltering in a burnt-out tree(5) that may well be posed, acquired the title Down on his luck. A famous painting by Frederick McCubbin (1885-1917) of 1889 has a similar title and composition. McCubbin was one of the members of a group of Impressionist painters known as the Heidelberg School, whose practice was to go into the landscape and paint direct from nature(6).

One of Caire’s best known images is of a fern gully at Black’s Spur in the Healesville district. The native tree ferns of Australia had been a popular subject for artists for decades, and were often presented as typical of Australian scenery, whereas in fact such groves were far less prolific than stands of eucalypts. The well-defined, graceful shape of the fronds may have been more appealing to settlers whose tastes had been moulded on the forms of European trees. In the 1880s the delight taken in fern gullies and bush wilderness reflected the increasingly urban concentration of the population, who sought relief from the cities and expressed nostalgia for a pioneer age(7).

Caire’s fern gully was photographed from above to show the shape of the ferns to their best advantage. The light falls on the grove amid the larger trees and close inspection reveals a seemingly tiny man deep within the fronds. Not surprisingly, the image acquired the title Fairy scene. In 1887 the Sydney photolithographic firm of Phillip-Stephan (1887-1910) included the image under that title among a number of Caire and Lindt landscapes printed as large colour photolithographs. The Picturesque Atlas of Australia also included the image redrawn by staff artist Carl Schwarzburger (w.1850-1900s) who ‘improved’ it by turning the man into a swagman heading deeper into the bush followed by his faithful dog. He signed it as his own work(8).

Caire did not pursue his bush subjects for purely business reasons. He was philosophically involved with the promotion of the natural landscape as a source of health giving recreation. He was associated with the Field Naturalists’ Club and from 1911 to 1920 he contributed articles and illustrations to Life and Health magazine. Caire also promoted tourism as an extension of his belief in the benefit of going into the bush, and as part of the reorientation toward this market that the views trade as a whole was undergoing. In 1904 he produced a Companion Guide to Healesville with his friend Lindt, who had actually gone to live in the bush in the 1890s, building a mountain-top guesthouse, studio and retreat at Black’s Spur, appropriately called The Hermitage(9).

Lindt, Caire and Kruger are united in the degree to which their views aimed to be more picturesque than previous generations and in their ability to create images which suggested experiences which the city dwellers could have in these environments. The sophisticated deployment of figures within the landscape made the images more natural and believable. These careful yet elaborate figure groupings seen in their work can also be found in Charles Bayliss’ Darling River pictures and the late work of Captain Sweet in South Australia. Sweet’s photographs of the early 1880s have both complex arrangements of figures and machinery and also a formal signature of novel angles, diagonals and interests in linear patterns.

>>>  footnotes

A heightened awareness of the photograph as a pictorial entity is evident in the work of the best view photographers of the period. As a consequence of this instinctive or conscious recognition of the difference between reality and its photographic representation, the personal styles, and even personalities, of many photographers in the 1880s are more evident than during the pioneer generations.

The format and aims of the Picturesque Atlas of Australia, produced in parts between 1886-1888 in preparation for the centenary of European settlement, shows a parallel concern for the aesthetic effect of the layout as a whole, and not just the individual pictures, and any information they may convey about the country. In comparison with earlier publications such as Edwin Carton Booth’s Australia of 1873-1876, the Picturesque Atlas was created for an increasingly sophisticated urban society(10).

Just as photographers were acquiring individual styles so the painters and graphic artists were using photographs or striving for naturalistic effects by painting outdoors and using informal compositions(11). In the 1890s a new consciousness of making pictures emerged in the form of a self-conscious art movement in photography known as Pictorialism. A far more extensive use of photography by government instrumentalities and industries including tourism, also appeared and laid the groundwork for the advertising and illustration photographers of the present day.

By the 1880s about a third of the population was congregated in the capital cities. Despite an economic depression in the 1890s, and the long hours and poor wages, enough free time and money remained to sustain the growth of tourism and outdoor recreational activities for the city dwellers. Photography proved to be one of the most popular and jokes and cartoons about the new breed of zealous amateur photographers began to appear(12).

As early as 1855 there had been calls to form a photographic society but the first formal society did not appear in Melbourne until 1860. Others were formed in the 1870s and early 1880s, but had faltered quickly or made little impact. Between 1885 and the turn of the century, amateur societies were formed in most of the main cities and then in suburban and regional areas. Some of the earliest were the South Australian Photographic Society, and the Queensland Photo-Association of 1885(13). A few professional bodies concerned with trade matters had a brief life in the 1890s but the fierce competition and price-cutting wars of these years discouraged collaboration between studios(14).

The societies began to hold club competitions, then exhibitions, and finally intercolonial exhibitions. The Northern Tasmanian Camera Club held its first inter-colonial show in 1894 and the Geelong Amateur Photographic Society organised one in 1895, which also served as a congress. This was one of the few occasions when photographers travelled from interstate to get together(15).

Photographic magazines published by supply companies became available in the 1880s. Bray and Lichtner in Sydney put out nine issues of the Australian Photographic Journal (A.P.J) in 1886, and Harringtons, also in Sydney, put out a journal of the same name from 1892 which later changed title in 1910 to the Harrington’s Photographic Journal (H.P.J.) and lasted until 1927. An Australian edition of the British Photographic Review of Reviews emerged in 1894 and became the Australasian Photo-Review (A.P.R.) published by Baker and Rouse of Melbourne until their merger with KODAK, who continued to publish it until 1956.

With such enthusiasm for photography well established in the 1890s it is not surprising that over 3000 KODAK pocket cameras were sold between October and December of 1896 when they were first released on the Australian market(16). Even the serious amateurs probably looked down on the new rash of family photographers. Women amateurs also slowly appeared in the 1890s(17).

A significant technical development of the period was the introduction of silver bromide gelatin-coated papers around 1890. These papers developed very quickly after a short exposure to light and thus made enlarging a more practical and commercially attractive procedure. Professional studios seized on the potential of the new paper. Mark Blow in Sydney even renamed his firm the Crown Bromide Enlargement Company in 1891. His production and staff escalated rapidly, becoming a small factory by 1892 and gaining him a lead against rival studios(18).

In 1890 Thomas Baker (1854-1928), who had been one of the first to manufacture dry plates locally in Australia in 1884(19), teamed with amateur photographer J.F.C. Farquhar (w.l890s) and they opened their rooms in Elizabeth Street, Melbourne as the Victorian Gallery of Australian Views with an exhibition of ‘argentic bromide’ enlarged landscape photographs. Some of these prints were over a metre square. The Sun newspaper of 28 February declared:

The bromide produces real works of art, giving a soft finish to the pictures, equal to the finest engravings. The object of the firm is to supply pictures of national life for home decorations, at a modest price.

The exhibition review was headed ‘Exhibition of Artistic Photographs’. Photographs had been described as artistic continuously since their first appearance but a new emphasis on the word ‘artistic’ appears in the 1890s, pointing to changes in the way photographs were assessed.

The views trade in these years was undergoing a subtle evolution and an aesthetic ‘consciousness raising’.

The Phillip-Stephan Company in Sydney had tried to market large colour photolithographs in 1887 using a selection of some of Caire, Lindt and Bayliss’ best work, even if uncredited. The size and colouring suggested that the individual prints could be framed for the wall as decorative items(20). Views photographs had been framed too, but were usually stuck in albums and seen as expository about the subject matter, rather than as fine interior decoration.

A sensitivity to the photograph as a picture in its own right can be seen in the work of views photographers in the 1880s, in particular Caire, Lindt and Kruger, and to a degree in the work of Government Photographer, Augustine Dyer. In addition to the traditional topographical role of the view photograph, Caire and Lindt were responding to a market arising from an increased appreciation of the scenic beauties of Australia. They both had strong personal beliefs in the spiritual experience of communion with nature. Their efforts to promote recreational use of the bush through their photographic testaments and lectures also extended to the production of tourist guides and even the escorting of groups into the bush. As Federation approached a new national spirit entered their work.

Neither Caire or Lindt had been born in Australia, but their work well fitted a prediction made in 1854 by English writer William Howlitt (1792-1879) about the nature of the next generation of native-born Australians:

To them the inverted seasons will possess no inversion. To them the gumtree and the wattle will assume the place of the oak and the elm(21).

The generation of painters and photographers from the I890s on were increasingly Australian born.

A spirit of nationalism was also projected onto the depiction of the landscape in the paintings of the Heidelberg School in the 1880s. Tom Roberts (1856-1931) was a leading figure in a movement which placed a special value on painting direct from nature using the example of the French Impressionists of the 1860s and 1870s. Experiencing the landscape directly was almost an ideological position with the Heidelberg School, and it is perhaps as much due to this, as their success in capturing specific and recognisable qualities of the Australian light, atmosphere and ‘feel’ of the landscape which led to the Heidelberg School, as Roberts, Frederick McCubbin, and Arthur Streeton and others became known, being regarded as the first truly Australian painters(22).

It is also interesting to see how the positioning of figures within the landscape and the attitude of their poses, evolved with the growing national consciousness. In 1887 Roberts painted The sunny south in which naked men are shown relaxing on a bushy shoreline(23). Daintree had suggested such an appropriation of the land in his 1860s photograph of bush travellers and Caire’s figures are often seen sleeping, reading, relaxing even residing as hermits in an idyllic bushland setting. Roberts’ image spoke for a new ‘native’ who was white, not black, and perfectly at ease in the landscape.

The Heidelberg School painters were also affected by the aestheticism of the 1880s and 1890s which involved a taste for rich decorative interiors, Japanese decorative arts, and a lifestyle dedicated to beauty. When Roberts, Streeton and others held their 9 by 5 Exhibition of Impressions in Buxton’s Chambers in 1889, the rooms had been decorated in an aesthetic manner with silks and objets d’art(24). Some of the works owed a debt to the tonal impressionism of painter-etcher James McNeill Whistler and, in contrast to the evocation of Australian light of The sunny south, were patently not documents but poetic Images.

>>>  footnotes


The ‘art for art’s sake’ attitude appeared a little later in photography than painting or the new etching revival in printmaking(25). In 1897 John Kauffmann (1864-1942) returned to his hometown of Adelaide after ten years in Europe. He had gone to work in the office of English architects Macmurdo and Horne and returned to Adelaide a convert to the new art photography movement in Europe.

He joined the South Australian Photographic Society and arranged for his work to be printed as bromide enlargements by Baker’s Austral Company in Melbourne, and by October had submitted his work to the Society of Artists in Sydney for inclusion in their next exhibition. It was not accepted, but the Australian Star of 8 October praised Kauffmann’s prints as ‘some of the most perfect photographic work ever seen . . . clear and truly artistic’. Graphic arts were, however, accepted for the first time in the Society of Artists 1897 exhibition.(26).

Kauffmann’s bromide enlargements were shown instead at the Baker and Rouse warehouse in Sydney and at their office in Adelaide. The South Australian Register of 11 February 1898 described them as ‘alluring landscape, water, and cloud interpretations of Nature’. Both reviews had stressed Kauffmann’s delicate tones, as did later reviews in the APR and the APJ when commenting on his exhibits in the 1898 annual exhibitions of the South Australian and New South Wales Photographic Societies(27). The following year Kauffmann won first prize in the landscape class of the Photographic Society of New South Wales Intercolonial Exhibition, and by 1901 he was invited to judge his own society’s annual exhibition, along with H. P. Gill (1855-1916) the Director of the School of Design, Painting and Technical Arts.

The 1901 exhibition of the South Australian Photographic Society was considered ‘one of the finest’ by the reviewer in the South Australian Register of 19 October as, some of the works could be mistaken for works of art’.

The implied reason was the absence of ‘all the sharp and hard lines usually associated with photography’. The response to Kauffmann’s work confirms that it was considerably removed from the straight naturalism of earlier work like Baker’s and Farquhar’s and probably Impressionistic, but not as extreme, or abstracted as the 9 by 5 Exhibition of Impressionist painters in 1889.

Kauffmann was not alone in presenting photographs that were more allied to the graphic arts and painting than the views of earlier photographers. FA. Joyner and Fred Radford, both of Adelaide, were also exhibiting works by 1898-1899 which, while not dependent on Kauffmann’s style, showed their awareness of the trends in Pictorial photography in Europe. Debates over the merit of the kind of tonal impressionism as seen in the 9 by 5 show were also being conducted in Adelaide, and provided a sympathetic climate for the reception of an Impressionistic aesthetic in photography(28).

Pictorial photography began as a specific movement in England around 1890 when George Davison (1854-1930) was awarded a silver medal by the Royal Photographic Society for his soft-focus Impressionistic photograph The onion field. It was dependent on French Impressionist painters, although somewhat sentimental by comparison to such painters’ concerns with rigorous study of specific moments of time, space and atmosphere(29).

Davison’s work was not as impressive as that of P. H. Emerson who had used selective focus in his photographs, not with the aim of making them look like Impressionism, but from a belief that overall sharp focus of the camera was not true to natural vision. Emerson produced a dazzling body of work through the publication of his photographically illustrated book, Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads of 1886. In his book Naturalistic Photography of 1889, Emerson articulated a theory that photography was an independent art form with its own aesthetic basis in truth to the subject, and ‘natural’ impressionistic vision'. By 1890 he had recanted in his tract Death of Naturalistic Photography saying photography could never be controlled enough to be an art(30). Few of Emerson’s photographic publications reached Australia although later Pictorialists borrowed his imagery. The complexity of his theories discouraged comment and debate in Australia, although the photographic magazines advertised his texts and made some references to them(31).

In 1892, George Davison was at the centre of a controversy between the administrators of the Royal Photographic Society and the more art-minded of its members, which led to the formation of a breakaway group who called themselves The Linked Ring Brotherhood, and set up the London Photographic Salon in 1893. Membership of The Links was by invitation only. Their aim was to demonstrate, by example, the pictorial application of photography as a means of expression indistinguishable from the other arts. In this attitude The Links also reflected the revival of printmaking as an independent and equal art form, which had encouraged the new etcher circles in Australia and the opening up of the Society of Artists 1897 exhibition to the graphic arts.

They saw The Royal Photographic Society as overly concerned with ‘minutiae of the science of optics’. The Links concentrated attention on the final print not the ‘negative sketch’. The latter had to show ‘evidence of personal artistic feeling and execution(32).

A similar disparagement of the minutiae of the negative sketch appeared in the December 1890 issue of the Australian Critic. In an article on ‘The Hand Camera in Photography’, the author recommended amateurs re-examine their seemingly hopeless negatives for the presence of broad effects 'which showed life and action rather than the rest and almost death’ of the perfect sharp picture(33).

Australian photographers were kept up to date on the debates over photographic aesthetics in Europe by the photographic magazines including the Photograms of the Year, which reviewed the annual London exhibitions at the Royal and the London Salon in the 1890s. The Australian edition of the Photographic Review of Reviews of November 1894 included an extract from a speech by founder member H. P. Robinson to the London Photographic Salon, in which he said that ‘exclusive devotion to science is a chief cause of want of success in picture-making(34).

Henry Robinson (1830-1901) was a painter by training and an enthusiastic convert to photography in the I85Os known for his skilful and ambitious narrative pictures made by combining many negatives. He was also an influential theorist and campaigner for photography as an art, having published various books, including Pictorial Effect in Photography in 1869 and Picture-Making by Photography in 1884, as guides to how to make photographs look like art by the choice of storytelling subjects and control of the final image by printing techniques. Robinson’s dogmatic rules of composition were far removed from Emerson’s vision of a separate naturalistic photographic aesthetic(35).

The split between bohemian and bourgeoisie, poetry and prose, art and science was not limited to followers of aestheticism or Pictorial photography. Profound changes were occurring in the division of labour into specific vocations, with separate training programmes and philosophies. The Australian Association for the Advancement of Science was formed in 1888, and marks the close of the era of Natural Philosophy in which study of the natural world as a microcosm led to universal theories. The gentleman-amateur scientist of earlier years was increasingly replaced by the new and specialised professional anthropologist, geologist or scientist. The new specialist ‘art’ photographers distinguished themselves both from the ordinary amateur or the crass professional concerned only with money(36).

In response to local and overseas support for impressionism, Australian photographers who had had their eyes opened to the new ‘beauty’ also opened up their lenses and Pictorialism spread quickly, in the way previously reserved for technological advances.

With Kauffmann’s elevation to judge of the 1901 South Australian Photographic Society’s annual exhibition it can be assumed that the new art photographers had moved from the peripheries of the amateur societies to the centre, as The Links had done in England. This trend was viewed with some concern by A. Hill Griffiths, Australian correspondent to the Photograms of the Year, who wrote that, ‘I deem it an unpardonable error to depict Australian scenes with uncharacteristic English mists(37).

The South Australian Photographic Society was particularly active in the early advances of Pictorialism. By 1898 F.A. Joyner (1863-1945), an Adelaide-born solicitor(38) with many cultural and scientific interests, had his figure subject Dawn accepted at the Philadelphia Salon. By the turn of the century he was using soft-focus and misty atmosphere in his landscapes. Later in 1905 he made extended narratives illustrating rhymes such as Jack and Jill. Kauffmann avoided such genre narratives so that although his work may have stimulated the South Australian Society into favouring Pictorialism, Joyner was drawing on earlier Pre-Raphaelite paintings and Pictorialism as favoured by H. P. Robinson rather than Kauffmann for his inspiration. Joyner and many of the amateurs were following on genre traditions established in the 1880s, in particular by Caire and others, with their storytelling photographs(39).

Fred T. Radford (w. c.1898-1920) was possibly inspired by Kauffmann but adopted a more extreme soft-focus which can be seen in his An impressionist photo illustrated in The Photograms of the Year of 1899. In the same year Radford contributed an article, ‘Impressionist Photography’ to the APR. in which he argued for the greater truth of soft-focus in representing nature, than ‘the present methods of small stops and needle sharpness; something must be left to the imagination as well as a general softening of all lines’. He allied with ‘workers who aim at something higher than “you press the button, we do the rest”(40).

Radford’s support for Impressionism in photography paralleled the public debate in Adelaide over the controversial purchase of Sydney Long’s painting The valley for the Art Gallery of South Australia. This work was actually less extreme formally than some of the 9 by 5 works of 1889 but the South Australian Register defended the purchase in an editorial on 28 November 1898. As well as educating the public to the truth of the new vision, the Impressionist style could:

impart the hint that much pleasure can be derived from the habit of retaining in the mind the impression conveyed when the beauties of a scene first burst upon the gaze, and before the ‘poetry of the indefinite’ has been dispelled by the prose of a matter-of-fact scrutiny of detail.

By 1891 Radford had established himself as a professional in Adelaide, presumably one of the earliest Pictorial photographers to bring the new style to commercial work. Around 1903 he travelled to England and America where he worked for some years, returning to Adelaide around 1909 to work from the Fruhling studio. By this time he was using the range of printing processes which gave the Pictorialists the means to idealise and romanticise their images by suppression of detail and control of tone. Radford worked in carbon and platinum and had a number of his gum-bichromate portraits included in The Royal Photographic Society’s annual exhibitions. No examples of his work have been located. As Kauffmann never provided written accounts of his philosophy, Radford’s energetic promotion of photo-impressionism is the earliest direct exposition of Australian Pictorialists’ aims and aspirations(41).

The South Australian Photographic Society’s 1901 exhibition had been intercolonial. In the following two years they also held international exhibitions. A few minor English Pictorialists, David Blount and Harold Hill, comprised the ‘international’ content and Blount’s gum-bichromate portrait The daughter of Eve was awarded the gold medal(42). The Society’s 1903 exhibition included a few more entries from overseas, a print by H. P. Robinson and one by A. Horsley-Hinton (1863-1908). The latter’s landscapes remained popular with Australians for several decades.

In December 1903 the New South Wales Photographic Society took over the lead in Pictorialism from the South Australians, with their own large international salon. A number of gum-bichromates by American photo-secessionist Edward Steichen were shown in the noncompetitive section. Over fifty years later Steichen would send The Family of Man exhibition to Australia. It was another international exhibition, but committed to a different aesthetic; the documentary photograph.

Sydney Long reviewed the 500 or so exhibits in the New South Wales Photographic Society’s 1903 show, mentioning Kauffmann’s strong point as ‘the rendering of sil-very light on masses of water'(43).

Long also liked Steichen’s portrait work which he felt was ‘too good to become popular with the public as it was not excessively retouched'. The rest of Steichen’s work struck him as experiments in imitating some other mediums, finding his Judgment of Paris ‘a very far fetched piece of symbolism’. Perhaps Long was experimenting with photography at this time, as were other artists, such as Norman Lindsay (1879-1969) and his brother Lionel (1874-1961). The latter was most active around 1911 when he made bromoils and autochromes(44).

Norman Lindsay’s self portrait photograph of c.1903 is typical of the style of portraiture in the arts of the day with emphasis on lighting to create mood and characterisation. Steichen’s work in the 1903 exhibition would have been similar, although more exaggerated being in the painterly gum-process. Extreme soft-focus works, from members of the main eastern societies, were present at the 1903 exhibition prompting the APR. editor to comment:

We notice many of our old friends from the fuzzy-wuzzy school, baffling the vision and confusing the brain of onlookers(45).

 footnotes   |  contents   next chapter  |  search-shades

List of illustrations used in the original publication (captions may be abbreviated):

P.66: Fred Kruger: Coast Scene, Mordialloc Creek, near Cheltenham, c.1882

P.67: Phillip-Stephan Photo-Litho & Typographic Co: Selector's Hut. 1887

P.68: Nicholas Caire: Fairy Scene at the landslip, Black's Spur, Victoria 1878

P.69: Captain Samuel Sweet: Poonindle, South Australia c.1870-1886

P.71: P.H.Emerson: Gathering waterlillies. 1865

P.72: Norman Lindsay. Self-Portrait c.1903

P.73: F.A.Joyner: Jack and Jill. 1905



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