The study of all the ramifications of photographic methods in modern life would require more time and more special knowledge than I have. It would include, above all, the various uses that are given to Photography in a fundamentally industrial and scientific civilization.
Some of the machine’s applications – of the camera and the accompanying materials – are especially wonderful. Suffice it to cite as examples the X-rays, the photomicrograph, the astronomical photography and the different photomechanical processes that give the world access to iconic communication in such a revolutionary way as in the day the invention of the printing press regarding oral communication
Much less important is that other phase of Photography to which I have dedicated myself, and which I intend to stick to. I refer to the use of the photographic medium as a channel of expression in the same way that painting, stone, words and sound are used for this purpose. In a word, as a set of materials that, in the hands of a few individuals and that, controlled by the most intense inner need, can become an organism with its own life.
And I say a few individuals, because true artists among photographers are scarce as much as among painters, sculptors and composers.
THE UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE OF THE ARTS
To begin with, what do we mean when we talk about «the arts»? Let’s list them: music, architecture, painting, sculpture, literature, theater, and dance. These reach us from the oldest historical times. Already in our time, science has provided us with photography, cinema, radio and television.
The radio is still in diapers and television has just been born (both, however, I think they have the possibility of becoming arts, and of great importance). What are all these things I just listed? In my view, they are forms of expression, languages through which people try to communicate with each other. Communicate what? This question was already answered by fascism.
The Nazis said: “When I hear the word culture, I take the rifle.” Indeed, they used the rifle and the torch to burn books and paintings, to reduce entire cities and all their contents to rubble and to whimperley shatter the pantheons-museums of a Tolstoy or a Chaikovski. Why did they do it? They did it because they realized that the whole of past and present culture, which is treasured and seeks continuity, was contrary to them, weakened them. They knew that the arts are means, instruments through which free people of all races and beliefs converse with each other, recording the ancestral democratic effort to understand the world, to reach the basic truths of the relationship that man has with the world and its peers. In short, the arts, at their highest level, are dynamic and have the possibility of moving and unifying a large number of people.
They are international languages capable of overcoming the narrow borders of prejudices, of counteracting hatreds of hatred, because they are a universal means of communicating ideas and emotions, of reflecting the essential equality of all men.
Let us go back, then, to try to sketch somewhat quickly and, therefore, with inevitable gaps, the development of Photography and the prevailing tendencies in the other arts during its first hundred years, assuming that art is a language and that Artist is not only a product of his time, but also his voice.
1839 is the year in which a new medium is born:
Photography. Daguerre Niepce found a new method to record images of the objective world, a technique that would influence the media as much as the printing press did. What a time that! The modern world grew by leaps and bounds.
Alchemy had become chemistry, machines modified lifestyles and manufactured objects on an unprecedented scale. The continents were explored for new resources and man had struggled for new freedoms. Photography was born of this tremendous and new freedom that allowed inventors and explorers of all kinds to develop. How remarkable it is also that four years after Daguerre discovered Photography, David Octavius Hill, the first great artist to use the new medium , was in Scotland making a series of classic portraits that, in my opinion, have never been surpassed.
DAVID OCTAVIUS HILL
Painter and also a member of the Royal Scottish Academy, Hill met Photography in 1842 as follows. He had been commissioned to paint a large canvas on which the recognizable portraits of a hundred long famous people of the time should appear. When faced with such a difficult task and having knowledge of the newly invented process of Photography, he turned to him as an aid to his painting.
He spent three years experimenting and it is interesting to know that he was fascinated by the new technique that completely abandoned his pictorial work. Starting from the idea of using Photography as a medium, he felt so fascinated that he soon considered it an end in itself.
So much so that his wife and friends considered it necessary to remind him that he was an “artist.” They reproached him for wasting his time and in the end they managed to be so remorseful for his conscience that he did not take photographs again. However, the results of Hill’s experimentation have provided us with a series of amazing portraits that have not been overcome until recently.
The result of his experimentation reveals a somewhat direct approach, a type of perception that, together with Hill’s special form of beheading the people he photographed, has made his work so extraordinary. The portraits are built with great simplicity over large masses of light and darkness, but, without a doubt, what makes them collect is the ingenuity with which Hill approached the new technique, apart from any theory. In his photography he was not worried or restrained by the academic norms of the time, as surely happened in his painting, since his importance as a painter is very scarce.
It is curious to note that his painting, in which he adhered to the academic norms of the time, has gone into darkness. Instead, his photograph, in which he manifested himself with true freedom, is still alive. In spite of the primitive machine and the materials with which it felt impelled to work, in spite of its exposures of five to fifteen minutes in full sunlight, this series of snapshots has resisted victorious the comparative test with almost everything that has been done in photography since 1845.
And that, let’s keep it in mind, despite the rudimentary of the materials he had to work with, the long exposures, etc., and despite not being there George Eastman to indicate that it was enough to press the button and that he ( Eastman) would take care of the rest.
Whenever I look at these photographs, I am amazed at the intensity of a vision that overcame all difficulties. What stands out in Hill’s photographs is the honesty, dignity and serenity they reflect. They tell us about that individual human worth that had been fought in the French Revolution and our own efforts to achieve independence.
The men and women that Hill photographed – his fellow intellectuals, writers, scientists and clerics – surely carried within them both the certainty of their own personal value and the security of being a respectable part of that world that was moving forward. Hill could see and photograph his gentleness and determination, the sensitivity and strength of those people, his remarkable personal integrity. Even as a painter, or perhaps because he was, Hill was carried away by his instinct to achieve it, using the new technique in a totally direct way, without trying at all to paint with the camera.
MATTHEW BRADY AND THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR
Neither did Matthew Brady, who arrived about twenty years later. In my opinion, it was no accident that it covered the war against slavery for the unionist side. His photographs of Lincoln, military camps and battlefields constitute invaluable memories of those moments. Some of the engravings are much more than that. They exceed the journalistic by the concentration and deep veracity of their perceptions.
His awareness of Lincoln’s beauty was unusual at the time. He also had a remarkable ability to eliminate from his base glass everything that did not contribute to enhancing the sense of the scene before him. There will be other notable photographs of this war, but none as sincere or as moving as Brady’s best.
Remember that the arts, like life, do not develop in a straight line, but often recede before moving forward again. The works of Hill and Brady disappeared from the picture. Photography, still awaiting the invention of dry plates, once again became an instrument of simple registration in the hands of a relatively small number of professionals who were discussing the weight of the devices and the wet plates.
There is no picture in this period that captures exactly what Hill and Brady achieved with Photography. Even so, the painting was a reflection of the time. The painters, not being forced to paint neoclassical scenes for the nobility, turned their gaze to the natural world. Delacroix, Corot, Courbet and others painted animals and forests, the sea and ordinary people with deep and poetic understanding.
In the late 1870s the Impressionists rebelled against that sterile academicism of the Empire. Although it is very possible that Degassaque of Photography the idea of using new visual angles, it is also likely that the Impressionists reacted away from the mere unimaginative expression that nature and people made the photographers after Brady. Be that as it may, they inaugurated what could be considered a non-photographic approach to painting through a new use of color.
It did not mean that, in any way, a withdrawal from its surroundings. Rather, what Renoir, Pissarro, Manet, Monet and Degas did was broaden the subject. They painted streets of Paris, regattas, cafes, parks, theater and ballet scenes. Using color as an instrument to generate lights and shapes, they explored the daily life of the world around them.
Van Gogh, despite his poverty and his total lack of recognition, contributed the element of linear vitality, manifesting the world in an ever-changing movement.
For his part, Cézanne paved the way for the whole concept of the abstract form in the painting.
The invention of dry plates accelerated the narrow development of Photography in all its uses. Between the end of the 1880s and the first years of the 20th century there was a great resurgence of experimentation that used the photographic medium as an artistic form.
On this occasion it was the photographers who rebelled against a process that, in their view, was used only to record the external aspect of things. His rebellion was wrong, even if it was natural. Photography went through this phase of being understood as a shortcut to painting, when those who practiced it tried to imitate the work of the artists they admired, thereby destroying all the differentiating character and the expressive virtues of the new medium.
And it is that Photography has a tradition, although almost everyone who practices it today seems to ignore it. A person who intends to devote himself to Photography and does not live on a desert island should examine that tradition with a critical attitude, find out what it has meant, Photography for others, determine what has been achieved and how unsatisfactory his work, consider if he could hang on it. wall that a Dürer engraving or a painting by Rubens or even Corot, without the Photography being undervalued, if they approve, after all, the proof not of Art, but of Life.
In my own study of the photographic tradition I have discovered, and I believe that it can be demonstrated, that there are very few photographs that resist that proof. And that is because, although much of the work is a consequence of a sensitive perception of the natural model, it is based on the fundamental incorrectness of considering the photographic technique as a shortcut to painting.
In Germany, it was Kuhn, Watzek and the Hofmeister’s who made huge positives in rubber in the style of Germanic romantic painting. In France, Demachy and Puyo tried to approach the Impressionists. In the United States, Whistler was noted in the sensitive photographs of Clarence White, Kásebier admired Holbein, and Steichen made pictorial and gummed platinum sugomas.
When, on the contrary, the main influence was not painting, as in the first works of White and in the famous portrait that Steichen made of Morgan, positives of lasting value emerged. It should be noted that all these artists were characterized by their great intensity and enthusiasm. Now, in perspective, we see that they were following a wrong path. It is the lesson that a very remarkable set of works teaches us, whose greatest interest remains the historical one
There is no evidence that these famous photographers, both American and English, German or French, were aware of the means inherent in Photography or their own peculiar approach. The freshness and originality of his vision, the fineness of his perception of life were always, to some extent, clouded and obscured. They did not understand their own material and that is why they did not respect it or came to accept it at all; they suffered an inferiority complex that limited or destroyed them.
That complex might have been overcome in some cases if the claim that photography was not “art” had not been made. Such an assertion was, in fact, the defensive mechanism of an Erewhon of art, no less fantastic than the country imagined by Samuel Butler (1872): Erewhon feared the machine. Instead of encouraging photographers to find out what Photography was, that attack only intensified their initial feeling of inferiority.
In the fight that broke out, they discovered themselves as second Holbein, Rembrandt and Whistler, always being anything but photographers. His work became an even greater mix, deserving of the little respect he had, being neither painting nor photography. They did not doubt the criteria of the painting nor were they able to perceive that, in essence, Photography could deny ninety-nine percent of what was called and continues to be called painting.
Throughout all his work, we see a singular lack of perception and respect for the fundamental nature of the photographic machine. At every step you try to turn the camera into a brush, make the photographs look like pictures, etchings, charcoals, or anything less than photographs. And, curiously, they always imitated the work of inferior painters.
Despite its many and varied phases, the history of Photography is, almost entirely, a cluster of inaccuracies and misunderstandings, unconscious attempts and struggles. Of men and women, painters or not, who were fascinated by a mechanism and materials that unconsciously tried to turn into painting, a shortcut to a medium that enjoyed acceptance.
They were not aware of having a new and peculiar instrument born of science at hand, an instrument as sensitive and easy to master as any plastic material, but which required the full perception of its inherent technique and its own special approach, before it was possible any deep record.
In that sense, the development of Photography, which so beautifully and completely review the numbers of Camera Work, is interesting notorious for its expressive aesthetics as for its historical sense.
The photographers let these wonderful books, which have no equal or equal and contain the only complete review of the development of Photography and its relationship with other phases of life; that these books whose publication Stieglitz devoted years of affection, enthusiasm and hard work, rotted in his hands, and were for him a constant burden, both physical and economic. It is a miracle that I did not end up destroying all the specimens.
But he continued to treasure them, as did the collection of snapshots, almost all of them purchased, which represent the evolution of Photography and are the only such collection that exists.
All of that he retained, perhaps because he had faith in Photography, in the work he had done, and in the young generation of students who, he thought, would seek and use them. All those experiments of the past not to imitate but to clarify their own work, their growth.
The photographers had no other way of accessing their tradition, the experimental work of the past. And, while a painter could become familiar with the development and past achievements of his environment, this was not the case with students or workers of Photography.
There was nowhere to see the work of Hill, White, Kásebier, Eugene, Stieglitz and the works of Europe in permanent exhibition. However, the photographers did not seem interested.
They did nothing to preserve or use those objects. That was already, in itself, a critique of the intensity with which they worked and was noted in the quality of the works they produced. Portodas parts perceived that lack of faith in the dignity and value of their own environment and, at the same time, the absurd attempt to show the world that they were also artists.
Moreover, in parallel to the production of this considerable number of bastard photographs, interesting but temporary, there was an equally broad and stupid discussion about whether or not Photography was art. It goes without saying that the discussion used to be as carefree and not as critical of its terminology and norms as photographers were. But, partly thanks to that evolution, we are now unfortunately aware that nobody knows for sure what art is. That word no longer appears so free in the mouth of serious people. Fortunately also, a few photographers are demonstrating with their work that the camera is a machine and also wonderful. They are demonstrating that, using it in a pure and intelligent way, it can become an instrument of a new way of vision, of unknown possibilities, related to painting and other plastic arts but without interfering in their respective fields. It has taken casiochenta years to come to this clarification of the true meaning of Photography, to move from the notably truthful but instinctive approach of David Octavius Hill to the conscious control implicit in the work of Alfred Stieglitz. Photography – his philosophy, so to speak – began to emerge through his work.
At the same time, the work of Alfred Stieglitz was a notable exception, who guided everyone else in the struggle to establish respect and understanding of Photography as an expressive medium. Stieglitz led the photographic cohorts, organized exhibitions in the art museums of European capitals and also in the United States. But he soon realized that he and his collaborators did not work in the same direction.
He himself tells a significant anecdote referring to the moment in which, in 1884, being an engineering student in Germany, he discovered Photography on his own. The fervor and the passionate intensity with which he experimented using that process yet to be developed did not take long to attract the attention of his companions. The students began asking him questions and later his instructor did. Later, many painters, some of them famous, were interested, who said: “Of course, this is not art, but we would like to paint like you photographs.” To which Stieglitz replied: “I don’t know anything about art, but, for whatever reason, I’ve never intended to photograph as you paint.” Herein lies the key, the essential leitmotif of his work. From the beginning, Stieglitz accepted the machine, finding in it something that was almost part of himself, and fell in love with it.
He fought for the machine and for the opportunity it offered to channel people’s impulses, to grant him the due respect for raising people’s interest in that way. He fought for his extraordinary possibilities to record the world directly, through the science of optics and the chemistry of silver and platinum, translated into subtle tones that were beyond the reach of any human hand.
Stieglitz was interested in establishing Photography, not establishing photographers, or even establishing himself. And then, quite naturally and consciously, it went further. Photography began to symbolize a great impersonal struggle for him. That machine he approached so freely, by which he felt compelled to review himself, was a despised object, rejected. For him, it became a symbol of every young and new desire, regardless of the form it could take, against a world and a social system that tries to disrupt and destroy everything that it does not understand and that causes fear.
Photography became then a weapon for him, a means of fighting for fair play, for the tolerance of those who wished to perform a correct and honest activity. Stieglitz endorsed the laws of change and growth, defending the right to exist and grow from those who, as the years have shown, introduced a new vision into human life.
The first portraits of simple people that Stieglitz made in Germany and in Italy, the commentary he expressed in his famous “Rumbo”, the photographs he made of New York upon returning to his homeland, reflect the ideas of American democracy that he was imbued. The evolution of his work as a whole gives us, then, the image of the direction and quality of his life. His direction reveals an uninhibited way of focusing on people and things; Its initial quality corresponds to an intense desire to affirm their beauty.
As these two primal impulses evolve, they face the impacts of reality without resentment or bitterness, without disappointment, penetrating reality.
The direction of this life remains unequivocally the same, but the statement deepens, strengthening with a critical intelligence and, more specifically, self-criticism, which recognizes neither beauties nor ugliness because it has understood the crucial forces that generate such concepts.
Stieglitz thus removed the “mechanical look” of the camera from the realm of objects that people make or build, to direct it directly to what people are. He gave the portraitist, in any medium, a new meaning: that of being a deliberate attempt to review the forces that make up a person and whose sum documents, therefore, the world of that person. Stieglitz’s amazing portraits, whether they objectify forces or hands, a woman’s torso or a tree’s torso, suggest the beginning of a penetration of the scientific spirit into the plastic arts.
Through the photographic line, its shape and its tonal values, Stieglitz managed to transcend the mere creation of images, going beyond any empty gesture of his own personality, which will be done at the expense of the object or the person in front of him. He examined our world of impulses and inhibitions, of openings or withdrawals, letting himself be carried away by a spirit of selfless search guided by a yearning love. Photographs of objects and people – of shapes of sun and clouds – become equivalent to a deeply critical but positive inquiry about contemporary life. They are the objective, not the beautiful conclusions of that research.
Stieglitz’s photographs come from that basis of struggle and passionate search, which show us his intellectual and spiritual growth. It is a complete work in itself and aesthetically satisfactory. The machine and its own special technique are dominated without the need to resort to tricks in the use of materials, without scattering, without in any way avoiding the objective world in front of the camera. Nor is there the slightest hint of brushstrokes or strokes, neither in the treatment nor, which is even more subtle, in the sensation; according to his own words «nothing of mechanization, but always Photography».
The whole of Alfred Stieglitz’s work, which covers a period of almost fifty years of creative experiments, projects a complete analysis and a synthesis of that machine that is the camera. Using the methods and materials that belong exclusively to Photography, Stieglitz demonstrated without a doubt that, when that machine, the camera, is guided by an artist of great sensitivity and deep perception, is able to produce and capture the perfect equivalent of a unitary thought and sense. That unity could be described as a vision of life, of the forces that take shape in life. His work constitutes, therefore, a monumental work.
However, he did not call his work “art”; rather, he argued that it was Photography. Dilucidate it is an academic issue and can be left to the discretion of those who are especially concerned that a thing is art or not. We only have to go to the Boston Museum and the Metropolitan Museum, to contemplate its scarce but great examples of Stieglitz’s work, to feel grateful that life has once again been enriched by a new beauty, for another legacy preserved for generations to come.
Apart from what these photos offer themselves, it is also possible to understand them as symbols of the machine used not to exploit and degrade human beings, but as an instrument to bring back to life something that makes the mind mature and refreshes the spirit. They prophesy, perhaps, and make people conceive of hopes for a new world, humanly speaking, that is not an absurd Erewhon but a place where people have learned to use machines with a different attitude towards them and towards themselves. In such a world, the machine would take its place not only as a valuable tool for economic liberation, but also as a new means of achieving intellectual and spiritual enrichment.
The works of Alfred Stieglitz follow a purely photographic tradition initiated by Hill and Brady, photographers whose positives were still back then in the limbo of forgotten objects. And it is that in the last works carried out by this American we find a very evolved crystallization of the photographic principle, the unconditional subjugation of a machine to the sole purpose of the expression. Stieglitz should be considered as the apex of an American tradition, without the external influence of the art schools of Paris or their diluted offspring in the New World.
This evolution extends over a relatively short period of sixty years and there was no real progress until the years between 1895 and 1910, at which time an intense resurgence of enthusiasm and energy was manifested throughout the world. Moreover, this rebirth found its greatest aesthetic achievement in the United States, where a small group of men and women worked with honest and sincere goals, instinctively some and consciously a few, but without relying on previous graphic or photographic formulas and without preconceived ideas about of what is and what is not art. That innocence was his strong point. Everything they intended to say should be developed through their own experiments: it was born from real life.
Similarly, the creators of our skyscrapers had to face the similar circumstance of being unprecedented and it was thanks to the very need to evolve a new way, both in Architecture and in Photography, as the resulting expression was vitalized.
In what medium has it been possible to capture the tremendous energy and potential force of New York more completely than in the purely direct photographs of Stieglitz?
Where has this more subtle feeling that constitutes the reverse of all this been reflected, the quiet simplicity of life in small American towns, so sensitively suggested in the first works of Clarece White? Is it possible to find in painting a greater originality and a more penetrating vision than in the portraits of Steichen, Kásebier and Frank Eugene?
They are not the only ones who have given beauty to the world, but these workers, together with the great Scotsman David Octavius Hill, are the important creators of a living photographic tradition. And they will be the teachers not only of the United States, but also of Europe because, thanks to the intense interest in the life of which they were part, they came to a universal expression through national expression. In spite of the indifference, the contempt and the security of receiving a little or no remuneration, they continued their activity, like so many others, although their work seemed doomed to a temporary darkness. His accomplishments continued without fearing, attesting to the motivation that served as impulse.
THE PHOTOGRAPHIC OBJECTIVITY
Photography, which constitutes the first and only contribution he has made so far as all media, in the total exclusivity of his media. First of all, we must keep in mind that a medium is not an art.
The painting, the words, the sounds of the scale, the lenses and the photographic emulsions are the inert materials that the artist uses to shape what he intends to express. I also consider it evident that he cannot express more than what he sees and understands in the world around him, and that it is the depth and scope of his vision that ultimately give the measure of his art.Moreover, the mere existence of a medium constitutes its absolute justification. If, as so many seem to think, each and every one of them is needed, the comparison of expressive possibilities is useless and Irrelevant. It is not the least important that a watercolor is less than an oil or that a drawing, an engraving or a photograph is not as important as any of the other two.
Having to despise something to achieve respect is a sign of helplessness. Let us accept, instead, with joy and gratitude everything that the human spirit seeks to achieve an increasingly full and intense self-realization.
Thus, the peculiarity of the photographic medium is an absolute objectivity without palliatives. Unlike the other arts, which are really “anti-photographic”, that objectivity is in the very essence of photography and constitutes its contribution and at the same time its limitation. Like almost everyone who manages other media, science to the arts, has its raison d’être, they completely misunderstand the inherent qualities of their respective media, neither do photographers, with the possible exception of two or three, have known conceive the photographic medium.
The full potential of each medium depends on the purity with which it is used and every attempt at mixing ends up producing objects as inert as color engravings, photographic painting and, in Photography, the positive on rubber, the positive on oil, etc. .
This same lack of understanding and respect for the material by the photographers themselves is directly responsible for the consequent lack of respect on the part of the intelligent public and for having the idea that Photography is nothing but a bad excuse for the inability to do something else.
Let us pause for a moment to elucidate what the materials of Photography really are. We have a camera, a machine that science has put in our hands.
Thanks to its so-called clinical eye, it is possible to capture the representation of objects on a sensitive emulsion. From that negative it is possible to make a positive copy that, without any extrinsic manual interference, registers a scale of black and white tonal values that is well beyond the capacity of the human hand or gaze. It is also able to capture the different textures of objects in an impossible way for the hand of man. Moreover, a lens with optical correction can draw a line that, although different from a hand-drawn line – a trace of Ingres, for example – can, on the other hand, be equally subtle and emotional.
All this, the shapes of the objects, their relative color values, the textures, the lines constitute the strictly photographic instruments of our orchestra. It is up to the photographer to learn to understand them, to dominate them, to harmonize them.
But that machine that is the camera cannot escape the objects in front of it. Neither does the photographer. You can choose these objects, place them and exclude them before making the exhibition, but not after.
There is your problem and these are the expressive instruments by which you can solve it. But as soon as you select the moment, the light and the objects, you must be faithful to them. If you include a strip of grass in your space, it will have to be perceived as the living and differentiated object that it is and so it must be embodied.
You will have to take your right place, even if it is no less important than a shape or texture, in relation to the mountain, the tree or anything else that is included. Objectivity must be used and controlled through photography because it is not possible to evade or mask it using non-photographic means.
The photographer’s problem consists, then, in clearly perceiving the limitations and, at the same time, the possibilities inherent in his environment, since precisely honesty is not, in this respect, but the intensity of the vision, a prerequisite for an expression live. This means expressing true respect for the object in front of you, concretized in terms of chiaroscuro (color and Photography have nothing in common) through an almost infinite range of tonal values. Get it done this is achieved without resorting to tricks or manipulations, using direct photographic methods.
It is in the organization of that objectivity that the photographer’s point of view regarding Life comes into play and where a formal conception born of emotions, of the intellect or both, is so inevitably necessary for him, before realizing the exhibition, as for a painter before applying the brush on the canvas.
The objects can be organized to express the causes of which they are an effect or they can be used as abstract forms, in order to generate an emotion not related to the objectivity itself. This organization is done by moving the camera in relation to the objects themselves or by placing those objects, although here, as in everything, the expression simply gives us the measure of a vision that may have greater or lesser depth depending on the cases. Photography is just a new way that starts from a different direction but moves towards that common goal that is Life.
Understood and conceived in this way, Photography is barely beginning to be used consciously as an expressive medium. In the other phases of the photographic method, such as scientific and other records, there has been at least, perhaps out of necessity, poor control and poor compression of purely photographic qualities.
That is why I have affirmed that these other bases were closer to a truth than the so-called pictorialism, especially that nothing original and nothing experimental pictorialism that fills today halls and yearbooks. In comparison with this so-called pictorial photography, a simple snapshot of the National Geographic magazine, a reproduction of a painting by Druet or a photographic report is a relief without palliative.
They are honest, direct and sometimes possessors of beauty, although not intended. I said a simple snapshot. The truth is that it is not so simple to achieve them, as almost all pictorial photographers could check if they dispensed with those oil pigments and those soft focus lenses that are used to conceal a multitude of faults, a great lack of knowledge and a botched work. Actually, they don’t manage to hide all that for those who know how to see.
Gums, oils, soft focus lenses are the greatest enemies not only of Photography, which can be compensated with simplicity and naturalness, but also of photographers. As oil and rubber introduce the sensation of being before a painting, something that is even more alien to Photography than the color of an engraving.
And God lives that a color engraving is already abominable enough. By introducing a pigmented texture, this extraordinary differentiation of textures is annulled, which can only be achieved through photography and the subtlety of shades is destroyed. With the soft focus lens the solidity of the shapes is destroyed, as well as any differentiation of the textures, and the blurred line is no longer a line, since the important lines, that is, those that have true rhythmic and emotional intensity, do not vibrate laterally but backward, in a third dimension.
It is not about defending a pure or direct photograph from the moral point of view. It is just that, for the reasons I have cited, the demonstrable physical results of the use of non-photographic methods are not satisfactory, they have no life. That light surrounded by an amorphous halo that is achieved so expensively with a soft focus lens is not satisfactory. It’s too easy and I know it perfectly because I’ve been through that too.
I have made rubber positives, and I have made five engravings of Whistler with a soft focus lens. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. I had to go through that experience myself at a time when the true meaning of Photography had not crystallized nor was it as clearly defined as now (not being, by the way, that crystallization, the result of talks and theorizations, but of real works made).
I will add yet another factor, of which Stieglitz’s work, in particular, allows us to become aware. Well, to the plastic expression, the machine has added the element of differentiated time.
The camera is capable of retaining an extraordinary moment. If that moment has life for the photographer, that is, if he has a significant relationship with other moments of his experience, and he knows how to shape that relativity, it is possible to achieve with a machine what the brain and the hand cannot achieve. Through the act of memory. Perceiving it like this, the total concept of the portrait acquires a new meaning, the record of innumerable moods, elusive and continuously changing, manifested physically. This is as applicable to any object as to the human object.
With the look of the machine, Stieglitz embodied precisely that, demonstrating that the portrait of an individual constitutes, in fact, the sum of a hundred photographs or more. He has looked with three eyes and has managed to preserve, with purely photographic means, filling the space and using tonality and tactility, line and form, that moment when the forces that manifest in a person are more intensely physical and objective . By thus revealing the spirit of the individual, he has documented the world of that individual that exists today. In this sense, portraitist painting, already almost a corpse, becomes something absurd.
It has been the vision of this artist, of this intuitive knowledge seeker, that, in this modern world, has taken over the mechanism and materials of a machine and indicates the way forward. Stieglitz is the one who insists again, through the science of optics and the chemistry of light, metals and paper, on the eternal value of the concept of craftsmanship, for being the only way that satisfies him and because he knows that This quality of the work is a precondition for the quality of life. Through a conscious creative control of this phase, the machine has developed a new method to perceive the life of objectivity and record it.
The photographer has joined the ranks of those who truly seek knowledge, whether it is intuitive and aesthetic or conceptual and scientific. Moreover, by establishing his own spiritual control over the camera, he has revealed the wall of antagonism, destructive and totally fictitious, that these two groups have interposed with each other. In this sense, it can be said that Stieglitz has gone much further than Hill. His work has a much broader, more conscious scope, the result of many more years of intensive experimentation.