Understanding Artistic Movements

An art movement is a trend or style that often includes a specific philosophy, attitude, or goal. As a medium, photography initially struggled to find its place within the confines of the fine art world. Originally, photographers tended to value sharp focus on subjects, and photographs were viewed strictly as representational. It was deemed important to capture the reality of nature without manipulation. During the mid-19th century, an international crusade spearheaded by like-minded photographers ended the division separating painting and photography. This popularized the opinion that photography is indeed art, and over time, photography has been increasingly included in discussion of art movements.

The advent of Pictorialism during the late 19th century was the first attempt to bring photography as a medium into the world of fine art. At this point in history, an artist was credited as the creator of a painting and was held in high esteem in the art world; however, a photograph was viewed as a recording created by a mechanical device. Eager to differentiate themselves from amateur and utilitarian photographers, artistic photographers began to consider the potential for expressionism within photography. No longer was the main scene or subject of significance; for the Pictorialist, the aesthetic and emotional effects became far more important.[1] Pictorialist work incorporated artistry during photo processing, creating imagery that used allegory, metaphor, and symbolism.

Various techniques were used while distorting the image: soft focus during captures, multiple negatives to print one image, and scratching the negative were all employed. Additionally, Pictorialists embraced labor-intensive, homemade processes such as gum bichromate to increase the artistic quality of their work. During this process, the photographer brushed a mixture of gum arabic solution, potassium bichromate, and an appropriate pigment or dye onto a sheet of textured paper. After the paper dried, the photographer would expose the light-sensitive paper to the negative contact and then manipulate the image with a brush or sprayed water to create a more painterly quality. Ultimately, the Pictorialist emphasized the importance of artisanship over mechanical means to achieve recognition for photography as a worthy medium in the fine art world.[2]        

One of the most notable Pictorialist photographers was Alfred Stieglitz, who was the American-born son of German-Jewish immigrants. Stieglitz and his family left the East Coast and returned to Germany while Alfred was young, hopeful that the German school system would adequately challenge him. While studying engineering, Stieglitz bought his first camera in 1882 and captured images of the German countryside. After teaching himself all about cameras and photography, he submitted articles and images to the British magazine Amateur Photographer. This earned Stieglitz a solid reputation among leading European photographers.[3]

Alfred Stieglitz | Die Kunst in der Potographie | 1897

Alfred Stieglitz | Die Kunst in der Potographie | 1897

Presently, photographers have a multitude of options when it comes to image making and post-process manipulation. Today’s world is saturated with digital imagery, yet many photographers choose to use analog cameras to further develop their own creativity and artistic intent. One such photographer is Adou (Chinese, b. 1973), whose photographs have been exhibited throughout China, Japan, and the United States. First inspired by the documentary photographic works of Julia Margaret Cameron, Robert Frank, and Sally Mann, Adou began to create images of people and settings around him, displaying exceptional visual and artistic expression. As a photographic artist, Adou uses expired film to construct dappled images reminiscent of the Pictorialists’ works of yesteryear. Balancing textures and tones caused by photographic processing chemicals, Adou creates a mystical ambiance.[4]

Adou | Fog Child, Frost | 2006

Adou | Fog Child, Frost | 2006