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December 23rd, 2010

When Subjectivism Ruled

From the  December 23 review “When Subjectivism Ruled” in the Wall Street Journal written by Richard B. Woodward.

The Pictorialists were a loose confederation that encouraged artists to be subjective with their cameras. Impressionist suggestion was preferred over clinical frankness, allegory to journalism. Prints visibly altered by the hand of the photographer were judged to be the most beautiful prints.

Stieglitz’s gradual disgust with this creed and his conversion to the idea that “objectivity is of the very essence of photography”—announced in a 1917 article—slammed shut the pre-World War I chapter of his past. Thereafter, the superiority of sharply focused images and “straight” printing became fundamental for his league of followers and for modernists everywhere.

“TruthBeauty” illustrates what must have been obvious, most of all to Stieglitz: Modernist photographers owed a lot to their despised predecessors, and the line between them was fuzzier than the triumphant upstarts later wanted to admit.

Read the Review

Alvin Langdon Coburn, The Tunnel Builders, New York 1913

Alvin Langdon Coburn, The Tunnel Builders, New York 1913