Pictorialism is a term for a style of photography which emphasises the beauty of the subject matter, tonality and composition rather than just documenting reality. In other words it is the style in which a photographer has manipulated a photograph as a way of creating an image instead of just recording it. This movement started in the mid 1800’s spanning through to the 1920’s. Pictorialists were the first to establish photography as an art medium. Henry Peach Robinson was the the first to introduce the idea of pictorialism in his book Pictorial Effect in Photography in 1869. He also described pictorialism as the joining together of sections of different photographs to form a “composite” image.
Pictorialists had two ways to distinguish their images from just documenting the everyday life. Firstly the subjects and the composition were designed to bring a sense of fantasy and visual cohesion. Secondly photographers were beginning to manipulate the chemical process in the same way that a painter would control their tools, such as applying brush strokes, which gave the photographs a painting like look. In manipulating the presentation of information in a photographic negative, the photographers injected their own sensibility into the viewer’s perception of the image, therefore permeating it with pictorial meaning. This idea was most likely influenced by impressionism which was contemporary at the time. In the 1920’s the pictorialism gradually declined as the aesthetics of modernism took hold.
Below are some photographs from the pictorialism movement
Even though I looked into pictorialism to get an idea of how vortographs were started, I really like that they have this artistic, fantasy, haunting feel and look to them (especially Alice Boughton’s work…) I found a photographer, Chris Field, who recreated pictorialist photographs using stockings and vaseline! I think this might be interesting to try out as an exercise or as a project. Below are the images that Chris Field produced.