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Movements, Styles, and Tendencies Pictorialism


Pictorialism Collage

Started: 1885

Ended: 1915

"As music is only sound under governance of certain laws, so is pictorial effect only the combination of certain forms and lights and shadows in like manner harmoniously brought together."


Pictorialists took the medium of photography and reinvented it as an art form, placing beauty, tonality, and composition above creating an accurate visual record. Through their creations, the movement strove to elevate photography to the same level as painting and have it recognized as such by galleries and other artistic institutions. Photography was invented in the late 1830s and was initially considered to be a way in which to produce purely scientific and representational images. This began to change from the 1850s when advocates such as the English painter William John Newton suggested that photography could also be artistic.

Although it can be traced back to these early ideas, the Pictorialist movement was at its most active between 1885 and 1915 and during its heyday it had an international reach with centers in England, France, and the USA. Proponents used a range of darkroom techniques to produce images that allowed them to express their creativity, utilizing it to tell stories, replicate mythological or biblical scenes, and to produce dream-like landscapes. There is no straightforward definition of what a Pictorialist photograph is, but it is usually taken to mean an image that has been manipulated in some way to increase its artistic impact. Common themes within the style are the use of soft focus, color tinting, and visible manipulation such as composite images or the addition of brushstrokes.

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