Category Archives: Pictorialism

Re-examining the Link Between the Rise of Photography and Impressionism

I recently launched a new blog to provide a place to discuss photo impressionism. The Photo Impressionism Project expands the discussion beyond my own portfolio to other voices.

My first post reviews a recent exhibition which raises some interesting themes; Re-examining the Link Between the Rise of Photography and Impressionism . I had always assumed that Pictorialists, the first Photo Impressionists were influenced by the impressionist painters of their day. This collection asks if those painters were influenced by photography.

From my experience, I believe there is a strong connection between the tools available and the artists direction. The rise of digital photography provided an easy way to experiment with style and subject. Was Eastman’s Kodak just as liberating for photographers in the 1880’s? Was photography itself a comparable change for painters of the day?

Still Life In Round 1

This is another experiment in my “in the round” series.

You can find more thoughts on technique at this link.

Apple Blossoms In The Round 2 – University of Toronto Law School Turning Circle

Spring brings some wonderful opportunities to explore “in the round photography”.

The idea is to capture the essence of an object in its environment by taking photographs from many points of view and then merging them into a single image. And the result is often a simplified version of the origin, bathed in muted soft pastel’s. I was first exposed to this idea in New York where you can find wonderful examples by Pep Ventosa at the Lumas gallery in Soho.

In this case I carefully walked in a circle around the apple tree taking a pictures every few paces. For each picture the tree was lined up in my view finder using the grid lines. Of course you can’t line your subject up perfectly but the process is very forgiving because the result is really an average of your efforts. In terms of numbers think 20 or more pictures.

Because the image is averaged there are other surprising results. While I was shooting a service truck parked in my point of view. It was obvious I was shooting so I was upset that the truck would create a distracting element in the background but as you can see it vanished when the images were blended together. Same thing with the “no parking” signs posted around the tree.

I start post processing in Lightroom where I select all the images I plan to use and then open them in Photoshop as layers. For this one I used an opacity blending script but the blending can also be achieved manually. For manual blending try reducing the opacity of each image by about 50% of the image before it.

I find the result of opacity blending a bit too soft so I use NIK’s tonal contrast filter and Vincent Versace’s mid tone contrast action.

Pictorialism: The root of photo Impressionism

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.


Equivalent 1926: Alfred Stieglitz

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.


The Maypole Pole (Empire State Building) Edward Steichen - example of early multiple exposure photo impressionism

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.

The Flatiron Building Edward Steichen

It is clear that the  modern photo impressionistic movement really is a continuation or rebirth of Pictorialism.

For more see: Stieglitz