Friday, October 17, 2008

"to every age its art and to art its freedom"

In February of 1902, Alfred Stieglitz formed a new society in New York to advance the recognition of pictorial photography as an art. He named the society the Photo-Secessionists. He chose the word "Secession" based on its use by the artists in Germany & Austria who formed the Vienna Secession.

The founders of the Photo-Secession were Alfred Stieglitz, John G. Bullock, William B. Dyer, Frank Eugene, Dallet Fuguet, Gertrude Käsebier, Joseph T. Keiley, Robert S. Redfield, Eva Watson-Schütze, Eduard J. Steichen, Edmund Stirling, John Francis Strauss, and Clarence H. White.

The Photo-Secessionists had similar goals to those of the Vienna Secession. Where the Vienna Secessionists were concerned with "exploring the possibilities of art outside the confines of academic tradition." and "hoped to create a new style that owed nothing to historical influence." the Photo-Secessionists goals were: "To advance photography as applied to pictorial expression; To draw together those Americans practicing or otherwise interested in art; To hold from time to time, at varying places, exhibitions not necessarily limited to the productions of the Photo-Secession or to American work."

Their first show was held in 1902. They exhibited 163 framed photos taken by 32 photographers, 18 of which were Secession members. It received positive feedback from art critics, some thought that it revealed the aesthetic possibilities of the camera. Whereas others thought the photos too much like painting and dismissed the photos as a "pretentious display of imitation paintings."

The styles of the Vienna Secession were displayed in a magazine called Ver Sacrum. Ver Sacrum featured works of Vienna Secession members. Similar to the Vienna Secessionists, the Photo-Secessionists had a magazine called Camera Work. Camera Work existed from 1903 to 1917. 50 issues were produced, with cover art and typography done by Steichen. The first few issues were devoted to specific members of the secession, where remaining issues served as monographs of other secession members work as well as some of the leading European photographers. A few issues were even devoted to photographs of the past, displaying works of Hill & Adamson, and Julia Margaret Cameron. As well as photographs, the magazine included society activities, and essays and articles written by secession members.

All-in-all, the movement helped to generate beliefs in photography as an art. Up until this time, photography was used for science and topographic photography with purposes of documentation. Before the Photo-Secessionists, Julia Margaret Cameron, and combination print photographers such as Oscar G. Rejlander and Henry Peach Robinson started pushing photography towards an art form. Julia Margaret Cameron wrote in a letter to Sir John Herschel, "My aspirations are to ennoble Photography and to secure for it the character and uses of High Art by combining the real & ideal & sacrificing nothing of Truth by all possible devotion to Poetry & Beauty."

Beaumont Newhall, The History of Photography
Eskilson, Graphic Design A New History

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