Shoppe Talk ~ Inspiration ~ Wedding Photography, 100 Years Ago, Part Two

July 21, 2010

Wedding Photography 100 Years Ago PART TWO: Pictorialist Portraits Hello again, and welcome back to our look at wedding photography from the turn of the century. In the last installment, we learned how stereo photography was enjoying its technological niche in the market, and we got to see some very interesting stereo wedding images. During the same period, there was another unique kind of photography called Pictorialism, which hinged more on the creative approach to image-making than on the science behind the camera. Pictorialism was an intentional diversion from photography’s inceptive naturalistic application, and upheld an attitude of beauty over fact. The Pictorialist approach sought an end of self-expression, and required creative mediation. Not only were the camera’s mechanical controls used to alter the image, but the darkroom and the subject itself were points of control in regard to the final photograph. Here is a Pictorialist portrait entitled “Lady in White,” by Magrithe Mather: 06-picto-MMather-LadyInWhite-1917-WEB “Lady in White,” 1917, Magrithe Mather. Referenced from SF MoMA. Notice how this image results from a harmony between several creative choices, from the wardrobe and pose of the subject, the focus and depth of field of the camera, to the low contrast in the print. The atmospheric effect was achieved in the darkroom, using the chemistry and filters to create painterly effects. While archetypes of the landscape and still life were commonly referenced, portraiture was a popular arena for Pictorialists. Along with the painterly treatments added in the darkroom, choice of subject was also inspired from the classical painting aesthetic, as you can see in this early Gertrude Kasebier piece: 07-pictoKasebierManger-WEB The Manger, c. 1899, Gertrude Kasebier. Referenced from Newport Art Museum. One can see a lot of parallels to the gesture and wardrobe in paintings of nobles and religious icons in the European style. This fact made the Pictorialist approach a perfect fit for bridal portraiture. I was quite excited to find another photograph of Alice Roosevelt Longworth, this time in the Pictorialist aesthetic. (Of course, a Presidential family would employ all the popular styles for their photography services.) You can clearly see the brush strokes from the chemistry being applied to the glass-plate negative: 08-Alice-Roosevelt-Longworth-portrait-WEB “Alice (Roosevelt) Longworth,” 1906, by Frances Benjamin Johnston. Referenced from Library of Congress. Here is another Pictorial Presidential daughter, Eleanor Randolph Wilson. This image is by George W. Harris, noted celebrity portrait photographer of the era. (I am using the term “celebrity” in the broadest sense--Harris’ subjects included politicians and military officers in addition to theater actors and the like.) 09-eleanor-randolph-wilson-WEB “Eleanor Randolph Wilson,” 1914, Harris & Ewing Studio. Referenced from Library of Congress. Here is an unnamed subject, by Theodore Horydczak. This bride looks like a saint atop a heavenly cloud! 10-Picto-THorydczak-1920-WEB “Bride VI,” c.1920-1950, Theodore Horydczak. Referenced from Library of Congress. The Pictorialist approach wasn’t always about soft focus and draping fabric. Sometimes the creative end was to tell a story. One of the best-known pioneers of Pictorialism (prolific in the latter half of the 19th century) was Henry Peach Robinson, who often combined subjects to portray his narratives. In his most recognized image, “Fading Away,” even the title contributes to the story: 11-HPR-fading-WEB “Fading Away,” 1858, Henry Peach Robinson. Referenced from Luminous Lint. Peach’s photograph was painstakingly created by printing each figure from a separate negative (onto a single piece of photo paper!). Wedding photographers who referenced this style didn’t go nearly that far, but the narrative tradition within Pictorialism endured for many years thanks to H.P. Robinson. This is a bridal party portrait by Mary Elizabeth Wheeler, entitled “She Was Led to the Altar.” Painted murals, as seen here, were commonly used as backdrops for in-studio portraiture, and added to the narrative aspect of the image. Notice how you can see each person’s face or profile clearly--this was definitely an advantage of the aspect of control in the Pictorialist practice. 12-picto-shewasled-WEB “She was Led to the Altar,” 1908, Mary Elizabeth Wheeler. Referenced from Library of Congress. Stay tuned for the final installment of our look at turn of the century wedding photography, to be posted on Friday!

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