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The Birth of Art Photography: From Pictorialism to Modern Photography 1889-1929

Temporary Exhibition: Museum of Fine Arts (Budapest)
The Birth of Art Photography
From Pictorialism to Modern Photography 1889-1929
30 March 2012 – 1 July 2012

The period of Pictorialism represents a milestone in the history of photography. The new photographic trend developed almost simultaneously in the 1890s in England, Austria, France and Germany. In the discourse on the artistic value of photography the advocates of Pictorialism sought to achieve the autonomy of photography through imitating painting styles, with their artistic paragons being the impressionists.
Their approach clearly subscribed to the traditions of painting in both the technical solutions and the themes. For example, the soft-focus lens and fine processes were used to emulate pictorial representation. Pictorialists regarded photography as a tool of artistic self-expression and did not aspire to an exact mirroring of reality.

Edward Steichen: Gloria Swanson

As its greatest achievement Pictorialist photography elevated photography to an artistic level.

However, it was exactly because of the use of fine processes that Pictorialist photographs resembled paintings in an almost deceptive way, and in their choice of subject the artists did not exploit the documentary potential of the photograph. The pictorialists’ exaggerated emulation of painting demonstrates that in an aesthetic sense the genre did not yet achieve autonomy at this point. Addressing these “deficiencies” Straight Photography emerged in the United States in the 1920s and, virtually at the same time, New Objectivity in Europe. Taking a radical break away from Pictorialist tradition, both styles sought to create an uncompromised, objective pictorial language

Visitors will be able to follow the changes that took place in a fundamentally still traditional pictorial world from photographic art that emulated painting to the modern trends that emerged around WW I. By showcasing more than 200 works predominantly originating from the period spanning from the first influential publication of Pictorialism (1889) to the show titled Film und Foto (1929) the exhibition presents the changes in the close to forty years from Pictorialism to modern photography.