04 March 2013
Let me know which you prefer and why.
Today’s theme is nature, which is a mainstay of my photography. In the Lens section are two of my entries, which were taken this month on separate occasions at sunset.
Photographers always have had choices in the print process: produce the print exactly as the image was taken (pure approach) or edit (manipulative approach). Throughout the history of photography the pendulum has swung back and forth with acceptance for one or both. Questions circle around “what is art?” and “what is real” and “what is altered” are at the heart of controversies and discussions.
In 2013 we have a sundry of possibilities. Popular culture and the art world seem to coincide with some of their beliefs and philosophies, adding innovative techniques in technology as part of an artist’s aesthetic decisions. While this state of the “arts” is not totally in sync, the use of technology in an artist’s tool box is widely practiced.
This weekend I attended a symposium devoted to American photographer Gertrude Käsebier (1852-1934). She was one of the most successful photographers of her time, adept and masterful with the camera and darkroom production. Her unconventional approach and distinctive style in portraiture steered her place in late nineteenth and early twentieth-century art and commercial circles.
Documentary photography was steeped in the culture during her early camera work, which meant each image was to be printed as it was conceived. No cropping, no manipulation, no alteration of the storyline.
As Käsebier’s portfolio filled with images of well-know artists (as well as images of motherhood, landscapes and native Americans), her reputation expanded beyond New York City where she had her studio on Fifth Avenue. Her interpretations and perceptions of her subjects edged her and her work into the public’s eye; the typical commercial photographer of the time used different methods: a more formal setting with background, objects and scenery, and a more pronounced staged appearance.
While she painstakingly set up photo shoots, her palette was processing and paper selection. Every decision was made to define the inner and outer character of her subject. Her insights into an individual’s personality and lifestyle were paramount to an image’s success.
Previously portrait photography was known for props to color the sitter’s character. Käsebier stripped the background, giving the subject the entire limelight. Simplicity prevailed, and drama was created through the individual and her editing.
Often she printed numerous examples of the same image. While some saw her work as anti-photography, she was a woman with a vision whose work drew the viewer into the heart and soul of her subjects.
She was known as a pictorialist, painting her subjects with her camera and photographic techniques in the darkroom. But her talents go beyond this new way of portrayal. She sought to give each subject the representation it deserved. She expanded her oeuvre to include women in various settings, interiors and nature. No matter what her subject she captured its essence.
Even with her innovative approach and results, her fame faded as modernism became the new direction in photography. For decades her legacy perched in low light, but in the 1970s a new appreciation for editing and manipulating of photographs became the vogue. Käsebier’s work was rediscovered.
As I sat and listened to academics describe her techniques, I thought of today’s technology that allows an editing stream to be as simple or complex as the photographer’s own lens allows. Käsebier’s use of texture, composition and tones are the stuff of today’s apps where we have alternative ways to create a final image.
She would have been at home in an atmosphere of “not editing for editing sake,” but editing for the best rendering of an image. And what could be better than not handling or smelling toxic chemicals. Or being stuck in a darkroom.
Now we seem to have the best of all possible photographic worlds. She would have joined the art of mobile photography. I’m sure.
Tip of the Week: If you are interested in the latest about iPhoneography, one of the best blogs is “Life in LoFi.” Click here to read their variety of articles about iPhone art, apps, forums, news, reviews, exhibitions, and digital lo-fi.
Check these entries:
Note: As always I welcome comments about this post or any part of my blog. The symposium called Gertrude Käsebier: The Complexity of Light and Shade is part of an exhibition of the same title. I encourage anyone in the area to see this show that took my heart and wrapped it with pure emotion and exuberance. The exhibition will run through June 28, 2013. You can read more about it here.