Pictorialism: The Camera as an Art Medium


Pictorialism was the favorite photographic principle in the late 19th century among artists, and it was what immortalized the camera as a tool for art. Here’s a quick story about this fascinating movement.

A battle of art & science

Middle: a photogravure of Henry Peach Robinson, the man responsible for Pictorialism. Left and right: photos taken by Robinson.

The term Pictorialism came from English photographer Henry Peach Robinson, one of the pioneers of the movement.

Before the invention of photography, people documented reality with the use of graphite, paint or ink. One must know that the camera was invented to capture reality in utmost accuracy. However, not everyone thought it should only be for those purposes. According to The Encyclopedia Britannica, the camera was meant for scientific endeavors and documentation. However, artists saw a different purpose to it, saw instead the aesthetic value of the invention. From then on, artists used the camera as a medium of self-expression, even creating their own exclusive society.

The artist’s mimesis

Henry Peach Robinson’s Pictorialist works in the 19th century.

Reality differs with each artist, who tends to modify what they see. The reality on paper is different from what is seen.

The qualities of a Pictorialist photograph are easily distinguishable. According to Artsy, the images tend to look more like paintings than photographs themselves. Pictorialist images focus more on the subject, beauty and composition; often they are soft-focused and toned. Generally, it’s akin to creating one’s own version of reality compared to the original.

Pictorialism in the contemporary world

Contemporary photography is heavily influenced by Pictorialism.

Pictorialism will always be known as the movement that gave life to Modern Photography, revered as the campaign that elevated the status of the camera as a legitimate medium for visual arts. Photography would never become an art if not for this principle. Though the movement slowly died during the 1920’s, its ruins can be found within almost every stylized photographer.

Thanks for your time! If you liked this article read on with the Recap of Lesson 1 in the School of Lomography London: Intro To Lomo or Illuminating Photography: A Quick Camera History Lesson with Eva Timothy

written by Ciel Hernandez on 2016-02-28 #lifestyle #analogue #analogue-photography #art-history #pictorialism #photography-history #art-lesson

One Comment

  1. bsdunek
    bsdunek ·

    I think Robinson did some really nice work. I'd like to know him. Thanks for this article

More Interesting Articles