Impressionistic photography has been with us since the beginning.
Contemporaneous with Eastman’s invention of the handheld camera, the Pictorialists (1885 -1915) tried to extend the flourishing impressionist movement using soft focus, post production techniques and the suggestion of movement to create images that were more artistic than documentary. The effect was painterly, pleasing and controversial. Looking at their work you see the roots photo impressionism.
The American photographer Alfred Stieglitz was an early evangelist for this impressionist movement. Starting as a Pictorialist he produced and advocated for impressionistic photography that was more artful than scientific but later advocated the antithetical movement “straight photography” which is the main influence in photography today.
A contemporary of Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, was also an early photo impressionist. Together they would play a significant role in making photography an art form rather than a documentary technique. Using multiple exposure (sandwiched negatives) and long exposures Steichen’s photographs were hugely popular. The Empire State Building image above, for example, appeared in Vanity Fair.
It is clear that the modern photo impressionistic movement really is a continuation or rebirth of Pictorialism.
For more see: