Random Sights and Diversions

Photography Media Reviews Commentary


Alfred Stieglitz and The Photo Secession

The images I’ve been producing lately, featuring an antiqued tinted look achieved entirely through post-capture processing – remind one of the Photo Secessionists. Indeed, I’m striving somewhat intentionally at least partly in that direction.

Camera Work

Camera Work

The Photo Secession, a movement during the early years of the 20th Century, takes its name from a photography exhibition that was organized and led by Alfred Stieglitz. [NY Met Museum: Alfred Stieglitz and American Photography, and Alfred Stieglitz and His Circle. Also see  Edward Steichen and the Photo Secession Years]. Stieglitz selected the photographers whose work would appear in the show. The Photo Secession show drew a tremendous amount of critical and popular attention at the time. Subsequently, in his work and in the pages of the magazine he founded, Camera Work, Stieglitz became the clear leader and most noted of the “photo secessionists.”

Alfred Steiglitz - Spring Showers.

Alfred Stieglitz – Spring Showers.

The photo secessionists reacted against the highly formal and posed photography being produced in Europe during the late 19th Century. Photography then was not only formal and stilted but highly representational and documentary. Rarely was photography viewed as art. Stieglitz and the photosecessionists, however, argued for more pictorial works and said that a photographic work should be perceived and appreciated primarily as an expressionistic work of art by the photographer.

Alfred Steiglitz - Venetian Canal.

Alfred Stieglitz – Venetian Canal.

The work favored by the photosecessionists was usually characterized by more natural scenes and soft focus. Steiglitz suggested photographs should be more like paintings. Photographers carried out extensive post-capture processing in the darkroom to achieve highly manipulated images with the desired tone and texture. For the photo secessionists, the subject of an image was less important than the photographer’s processing and manipulation. It was most important that the photographic image realize the photographer’s personal vision, thus turning what had previously been an almost entirely documentary medium into an art form.

Georgia O'Keeffe - Alfred Steiglitz.

Georgia O’Keeffe – Alfred Stieglitz. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Amazon: Stieglitz and the Photo Secession.

Edward Steichen - The Pond: Moonrise.

Edward Steichen – The Pond: Moonrise. Metropolitan Museum of Art.


7 Responses to Alfred Stieglitz and The Photo Secession

  1. Pingback: Red Bridge | Random Sights and Diversions

  2. I’ve had the good fortune of leafing through a number of copies of Camera Work. When they are referred to as Art, I have to agree – if only in the original form. I doubt anyone would go to the expense of producing something similar to Camera Work nowadays.

    • Joanne says:

      Thanks very much for your comment and for visiting (and liking!) so many of these recent images. It has been an interesting experiment, playing with a style more reminiscent of the early 20th century work by the photo secessionists. Of course, now the challenge is to try and fold that back into my core photographic style and see what happens.

      • If you are at all interested, there are a few publications by some early photographers, which you may be able to find free on the web.
        Practical Pictorial Photography – Alfred Horsley Hinton
        Picture making by photography – Henry Peach Robinson
        (in fact if you check Henry Peach Robinson you will find some other stuff of his)
        Naturalistic Photography for Students of the Art – Peter Henry Emerson.
        Try https://archive.org/
        I haven’t read all of the them yet, you may find not find anything that you didn’t know, but they may help you with the mindset these photographers had, which may go some way in helping ‘see’ with a Pictorialist eye when you approach your own work.
        All the best.

        • Joanne says:

          Oh, really interesting! Thanks. These were easy to find; I’ve read a little online and then downloaded to my Kindle. Very interesting and illuminating.

  3. Dan Fredland says:

    Where are you able to see Camera Work issues that have not been broken up to sell single images?

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