Between 1890 and 1910 an international movement known as Pictorialist Photography revives the artistic debate. This movement is characterized by its rejection of realistic conventions and by the reinterpretation of the texture and look of the existing photographic formats with the development of new processes like the gum bichromate process, which aim to give the photographer a wider expression palette comparable to painting.
This process is built upon the fact that some colloids or mucillages harden when mixed with bichromate and exposed to light. Colored pigments are added to this liquid mix, which, applied to a paper support, sensitizes it. The medium is then exposed to light through a negative, then washed of the excess chemicals and pigments. What follows is a tedious and highly uncertain process, due to which the gum bichromate has had varying results.
In France, from 1895 to 1920, the golden age of the gum process, Demachy and Puyo created some remarkable masterpieces. Around 1880 Demachy becomes one of the leaders of the European pictorialist movement. In 1884 he contributes to the creation of the "Photo-Club de Paris" and popularizes the gum process, which he introduces in America. Demachy and Puyo are known as "gummists".
In Europe different schools are created, which all endeavor to demonstrate that photography is as much of an art as painting is. Paris, Vienna, London, Hamburg and Brussels are the main centers for this movement.
But it is mostly in America at the end of the century that photography becomes recognized as an art form. In New York Steiglitz starts a group named "Photo Secession". He also collaborates with Steichen for the magazine "Camera Work". Each issue showcases a "pictorial photographer" but also features works by Braque, Brancusi, Picasso, Picabia.... The influence of "Camera Work" is tremendous. It served as an outlet in America for the European avant-garde and also helped photography enter the realm of modern art.
In Europe art collectors are mainly responsible for popularizing photography. In Paris the opening of the Orsay Museum marked the entrance of ancient photographic processes into the mainstream art museums. Among its masterpieces, the Orsay Museum displays works by Hyppolite Bayard, Alfred Steiglitz, Paul Strand, Edward Steichen, Robert Demachy, Clarence Hudson White....
©1999 Jacqueline Giudicelli