Making pictures: Australian pictorial photography as art, 1897-1957
AffiliationSchool of Fine Arts (Art History and Cinema Studies) Classical Studies and Archaeology
Document TypePhD thesis
CitationsEbury, F. (2001). Making pictures: Australian pictorial photography as art, 1897-1957. PhD thesis, School of Fine Arts (Art History and Cinema Studies) Classical Studies and Archaeology, The University of Melbourne.
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2001 Dr. Francis Ebury
Pictorialism was the dominant international photographic style from the 1890s until the late 1930s. In this thesis I examine the history of the movement in Australia from its beginnings in 1897, until the late 1950s when it finally faded away. Nineteenth century photographers used the camera to portray 'reality' or 'truth'. Pictorial photographers, who first appeared in Europe in the 1890s, aspired to be known as artists who sought beauty rather than 'truth' in their imagery. However, as an artistic instrument the camera had limitations. The most important of these was the fact that a negative is simply a record of what is in front of the lens; how then could a photographic print be art? Another drawback was the perception, as cheap cameras became widely available at the end of the century, that taking a photograph required little or no talent; 'anyone' could do it. Many Pictorialists therefore aimed to make images that resembled photographs as little as possible. To this end various manipulative devices were employed. The primary focus of my investigation has been to supplement the reasonably well known story of Australian Pictorialists noted for this kind of manipulation, producing soft-focus 'impressionist' hand work, with an account of the achievement of others, working in a 'natural' style, whose history has been neglected. I have also been concerned in this thesis to reclaim the reputations of Pictorialists, both men and women, from the reproach that they were only concerned to imitate works in other media, notably nineteenth century painting. In doing this, I have analysed who took photographs, what their motives were, and what their images signified, paying particular attention to the contextual, institutional, historical, and discursive parameters of Pictorialism. I use an investigative methodology heavily reliant upon contemporary sources, particularly the photographic journals. As well, I examine concepts applied to photography, such as the use of light, and compare them with ideas prevalent within Australian cultural discourse at the time affecting literature, poetry, and the visual arts. In order to do this, I use parallelism, induction, equivalent, and speculative reconstruction where concrete statements of Pictorialist aesthetics are absent. Pictorialism, in Australia as elsewhere, continues to be a relatively neglected area, although interest in an artistic style which has been out of fashion for decades often returns unexpectedly. The revival in the fortunes of Victorian pre-Raphaelite painters in recent years is one striking example. Such considerations apart, I argue that a movement which attracted so many enthusiastic participants, which was distinguished by an eclecticism ignored by most commentators today, which lasted so long, and has been so influential, does not deserve to be forgotten. Its history holds much to interest the serious photographer as well the social historian.
Keywordsartistic photography; Australia
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