woensdag 14 april 2010

the finest Photographs by Dutch Pictorialists Berssenbrugge, Boer, Eilers and Zweers Photography

In Atmospheric Light. Picturalism in Dutch Photography 1890-1925

Adriaan Boer Noch aarzelt het licht, Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal, Amsterdam Ontwikkelgelatinezilverdruk

Until 20 June 2010 the museum is staging an exhibition on Pictorialism, one of the earliest movements in photography. More than a hundred photographs by well-known Dutch photographers from around 1900, among them Henri Berssenbrugge, Adriaan Boer, Bernard Eilers and Berend Zweers, show how photography developed from a technical accomplishment into an art form. At the same time they built on traditions from the painting of the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. Using photography, they created portraits with Rembrandtesque light, still lifes by Willem Kalf, landscapes in the style of Jacob van Ruisdael and everyday townscapes reminiscent of the works of Cornelis Springer.

International artistic movement
Pictorialism, which emerged around the turn of the twentieth century, was the first international artistic movement in photography. The term Pictorialism derives from the term pictorial—painterly—which in the main referred to the photographs and not the photographers. It was only later that Pictorialism was also applied to the makers, the Pictorialists. More than a style, Pictorialism can be defined as the aspiration to make photography an art. The Pictorialists maintained a lively international network through clubs, societies and specialist literature which was translated and distributed, and through exhibitions and ‘salons’. The photographers met one another abroad at exhibitions and kept in touch in letters. The Pictorialists succeeded in making photography a recognized art form, and they also profiled ‘imaginative’ photography as opposed to the more scientific or instrumental ‘straight’ photography. This is a dichotomy still seen in photography today.

New techniques and artistic interventions
Within this newly created context of art photography, photographers focused on new phenomena—stylistically and in terms of content. The Pictorialists developed techniques and artistic interventions that expanded photography’s expressive power. They manipulated negatives or combined several into one picture in order to achieve a more idealized variant of their images when they were printed. The Pictorialists developed a variety of exotic and often elaborate darkroom and printing techniques, like the gum print, where a light-sensitive emulsion was applied with a brush. For the bromoil print, oil paint was applied to exposed photographic paper, and for the bromoil transfer the oiled photograph was transferred on to special graphic paper with a printing press. The traditional style of these techniques and the more expressive textures brought the work of the Pictorialists closer to that of painters and printmakers. The expression of atmosphere and mood was an important aspiration. It was achieved in part by deliberately using blur. The photographic industry embraced Pictorialism with the introduction of the soft-focus lens at the end of the nineteenth century.

Rembrandt’s chiaroscuro
These photographers were also fascinated by the possibilities of chiaroscuro—the play of contrasts between light and dark—a concept that originated in painting. Rembrandt was particularly interesting to Dutch photographers. Bernard Eilers for example, who as a reproduction photographer had the pleasure of reproducing paintings by the artist he so admired in the Rijksmuseum, wrote: ‘Rembrandt was a photographer; he painted with “light”, even the facture of the painting [the manner of its making] always proves to me his need to surround everything with a magical light, but the entire composition, as it were, is also driven to the light from the darkness; by the light. This is how we should see Rembrandt.’ Eilers also experimented with different kinds of light in his photographs.

Influence of the Golden Age
In terms of subject matter, making photography into art could involve staging; creating an allegorical scene or choosing compositional schemes taken from seventeenth-century art. In the Netherlands photographers had the rich tradition of Dutch painting within easy reach. Compared with other countries, Dutch Pictorialism had its own distinguishing characteristic. Whereas Pictorialism abroad laid the emphasis on landscape and urban photographs, the Dutch Pictorialists were very fond of the realistic portrait. This, too, can be compared to seventeenth-century Dutch painting in which the portrait played an important role.

In Atmospheric Light presents a selection of more than a hundred of the finest photographs by Dutch Pictorialists from the University of Leiden’s Special Collections. The exhibition is accompanied by a lavishly illustrated book of the same title, edited by Maartje van den Heuvel. Lees verder Schilderen met gomdruk en kooldruk ...

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