Saturday, May 08, 2010


Alvin Langdon Coburn, 1904

Last week the spouse & I travelled to San Antonio to visit friends & family, and to take in a couple of exhibits at the McNay. TruthBeauty was a collection of photographic pictorialist work, and Impressionist Sensibility featured American impressionist painters. This was supposed to be a “something for everyone” trip, since the spouse is a photographer.

While the painting show was most definitely worth the visit, it was the photography that taught me the best lessons that day.

Pictorialist photographers were active in relatively early times for that medium. They sought to elevate photography from a mechanical, documentary form to art. To do this, they turned away from sharp focus, suggesting atmosphere and mood more than recording particulars. With such a lack of detail, shape and value become the important elements in their compositions.

This is a worthy goal for me, too. Much contemporary illustration seems to be heavily influenced by animation. Not just cinematic compositional sensibilities, but the hyper-realistic detail that’s made possible by digital processes. Yes, the look is new and (sometimes quite literally) shiny, but say an illustrator wants to stand out from the trend, and produce something that the digirati do not. Maybe said illustrator could take a look at the pictorialists.

"Spring Showers"
Alfred Stieglitz, 1901

"Kelmscott Manor: Attics"
Frederick H. Evans, 1898