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Fine Art Genres of Photography

Fine Art Photography

In order to assert that photography is a fine art, it is necessary to understand that photography is not merely a mechanical and chemical process—or primarily a commercial product—but is also a means for achieving artistic goals. Furthermore, the idea of photography as a fine art elevated the photographer, who, through stylistic and compositional choices and the expressive manipulation of the medium, in the nineteenth century joined the long tradition of painters, drawers, and printmakers.

Photography now encompasses a variety of genres, imagery, and purposes that range from utilitarian to purely aesthetic in nature. Intermediate photography of artwork, including paintings, drawings, sculpture, and architecture, highlights the tensions between visual record and artistic expression inherent to the medium. While such photographs have value as documentations of art, skillful aesthetic presentations of the original art can render such photographs accomplished works of art in themselves.

Art Reproductions

During the 1850s, photographers began to photograph art objects such as sculpture, drawings, and paintings found in renowned collections or museums. In his book The Pencil of Nature, photographic pioneer Henry Fox Talbot (English, 1800–1875) had pointed out this utilization of photography. Art reproductions exhibited in the Exposition Universelle of 1855 in Paris were met with enthusiastic response. Their popularity encouraged large photographic enterprises specializing in the publication and sale of art reproductions like the Alinari Brothers of Florence, Italy and Braun in Dornach, Scotland. Large- and small-scale carbon print art reproductions found their way into homes, schools, and civic institutions throughout Europe and the United States, democratizing the relatively new discipline art history and transforming the education of both scholars and artists.

Fratelli Alinari, Florence (est. 1852), Siena Cathedral Interior, n.d. (late-nineteenth century), silver print, 15 x 11 ¼ inches, private collection.

Landscape photographs were made as tourist souvenirs in mass-production photographic publishing houses such as that of the well-known Alinari brothers, in Florence, Italy, and Braun in France. Such enterprises also sold photographs of famous monuments and structures, as well as paintings and sculpture. This artistically arranged viewpoint of Siena Cathedral’s interior highlights its iconic black and white marble stripes.

Braun & Cie, Paris (est. 1857), Belvedere Torso, Vatican Collection, Rome, carbon print, 24 x 18 ¼ inches, private collection.

Adolphe Braun achieved his first major successes in the 1850s with collodion prints on albumenized paper—prints with a relatively short shelf life, particularly when steadily exposed to light. In 1866, Braun obtained the rights to use the carbon process, perfected in 1864 by the British chemist Joseph Swan, in order to create more durable and richly hued prints. “Lamp black” was the original pigment used in the process, hence its name, but other pigments could be employed in order to create subtle variations in color, and though the process was more complex and expensive than the production of albumen prints, the carbon process took hold of the market. Other photographers followed suit—for example, Alinari in Florence, and Elson in Boston.

Fratelli Alinari, Florence (est. 1852), Michelangelo, Head of David, Florence, n.d. (late-nineteenth century), carbon print, 21 1/2 X 15 ¾ inches, private collection.

Carbon Prints: “Unlike silver and platinum printing methods that rely on the light-sensitive properties of metal salts to form a metallic image, the carbon process depends on the light sensitivity of dichromated gelatin. This material hardens in proportion to the amount of light it receives, forming an image that consists of pigment in gelatin. To make a typical carbon print, a sheet of paper is coated with a solution of gelatin, potassium dichromate, and pigment. Once dry, this light-sensitive “carbon tissue” is place in contact with a negative and exposed to light, locally hardening the carbon tissue. The exposed tissue is then transferred to a paper support by wetting both papers, placing the tissue face down onto the new paper, and squeegeeing the pigmented film into firm contact. Under water, the exposed carbon tissue is carefully peeled away. The unexposed pigmented gelatin dissolves in the bath, and the positive carbon print is revealed on the new paper support.” –National Gallery of Art

Pictorialism—an art movement spanning from the late 1800s into the 1930s—embraced photography as art. Pictoralist photographers employed painterly aesthetics, such as idealized imagery and a soft focus, to link photography to traditional 2-D genres and underscore this belief. Pictorialists were also greatly concerned with the presentation of their work in art exhibitions. The standards by which art societies and academics judged photographs for exhibition admission increased as the capabilities and limitations of photography became better understood. The more rigorous standards for evaluating photography in turn served to elevate the regard for the medium among viewers and critics.

Charles Bregler's Thomas Eakins Collection

Artist Thomas Eakins photographic practice has become important for understanding the history of photography and its use by artists. In the book Eakins and the Photograph: Works by Thomas Eakins and his Circle in the Collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1994), co-authors Susan Danly and Cheryl Leibold state that Eakins used photographs “as scientific inquiry, as teaching tool in his art classes, and as studies related to his own work in painting and sculpture.”

Thomas Eakins (American, 1844–1916), Charles Bregler, ca. 1885, albumen print (copy of the original), 3 9/16 x 2 13/16 inches, Lebanon Valley College Fine Art Collection, courtesy of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Charles Bregler's Thomas Eakins Collection, purchased with the partial support of the Pew Memorial Trust, 1985.68.2.203.

American painter and sculptor Charles Bregler (1864–1958), subject of this portrait, was a student and life-long friend of Eakins and his wife, artist Susan Macdowell Eakins (American, 1851–1938). This photograph of Bregler by Eakins was taken two years after Bregler had begun to study with Eakins at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Bregler preserved an enormous amount of both artists’ material when Eakins' wife Susan passed away.

Circle of Eakins, Thomas Eakins nude, playing pipes, facing left, 1883, albumen print (copy of the original), 3 5/8 x 3 5/16 inches, courtesy of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Charles Bregler’s Thomas Eakins Collection, purchased with the partial support of the Pew Memorial Trust, 1985.68.2.490.

Through the acquisition of Charles Bregler’s Thomas Eakins collection by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1985, a study of Eakins’ photographic practice was made more accessible and has become important for understanding the history of photography and its use by artists. Many of Eakins’ photographs were documentary studies, rather than finished compositions. In 1883, Eakins began working on an Arcadian series that resulted in photographs, oil studies and sculptural reliefs of the subject. The photograph Thomas Eakins nude, playing pipes, facing left, together with an oil study titled Acadia Sketch, served as the preparatory work for his larger and most finished painting of the series, Arcadia (1883), now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Eakins’ emphasis on nude photography—and on the use of nude models for female art students—was both innovative and controversial, resulting in his eventual dismissal from the faculty of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

Contemporary Portraits

Contemporary formal portraits, as created by Philippe Halsman (American, 1906–1979), Arnold Newman (American, 1918–2006) and Annie Leibovitz (American, b. 1949), depict more than just likenesses of celebrities. They also incorporate emblematic information about each subject’s profession, style, or workplace. They have been described as “environmental portraits,” just one of the many sub-genres of contemporary portraiture in photography. Other examples of contemporary portrait styles include conceptual, candid, lifestyle, and glamor portraits, and contemporary portraiture can also draw inspiration from traditional and fine art portraits.

An increased access to technology for photograph creation in the twenty-first century has enabled many individuals to regularly create and share contemporary photography portraits. The contemporary amateur self-portrait, colloquially dubbed the “selfie,” possesses a widespread presence across social media and has become a staple of modern culture.

Blade Umstead ’16 (American), Liz A, 2016, Duratrans digital print, 18 x 24 inches, Lebanon Valley College Fine Art Collection.

Blade Umstead '16’s contemporary photographic portraits of students and their environment on campus was included in the LVC Reimagined: Transformative Architecture exhibition held in 2015.

“I became interested in photography this past year (2015–2016). I approached Dr. Grant Taylor about this interest and he led me to the Independent Studies project. The initial task of the project was to represent student interaction within the architecture of residential buildings on the LVC campus. Gaining inspiration from artists Jeff Wall and Nan Goldin, both of whom have captured the realities of peoples’ lives and the atmospherics of interior space, I began exploring residential buildings, looking for areas of interest that I would like to shoot. As the project progressed, I decided to focus on three main themes: sleeping, studying and social life.” –Blade Umstead ’16, Major: Biology, Minor: Studio Art

Theodore Robinson (American, 1852–1896), Grasses and Flowers, c. 1885, reproduction from a photograph 9 ¾ x 7 3/16 inches, photography ©Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago.

In the 1870s, Impressionism incorporated the spontaneity of sketches en plein air, with aspects of camera vision that included the capturing of light in a fleeting moment and casual poses. Theodore Robinson has been called the first American Impressionist. Like many American painters studying abroad in the nineteenth century, Robinson traveled to France, worked for five years in Giverny and knew Claude Monet (French, 1840–1926) as a close associate. Although there is little evidence of the French Impressionists using photography in their plein air painting, it has been noted that it was impossible for them not to be impacted by it. Robinson, however, serves as an interesting example of an Impressionist who used photography as an aid in his work. Because asthma was an obstacle to his working consistently outside, he took many photographs on location and worked directly from them in his studio. An entry in Robinson’s diary helps to elucidate his attitude toward using photography: “Painting direct from nature is difficult, as things do not remain the same. The camera helps to retain the picture in your mind.” He transferred these pictures by a grid to his canvas.

Through close examination of both the photograph taken by Robinson and his painting, now in the collection of the Palmer Museum of Art, it is interesting to note that even the glare caught by the camera in the foreground of the black and white photograph was captured in the painting. The grasses that are closest to the picture plane of the painting are in the sharpest focus, just as is evident in the photograph, and show how he used “camera vision” in his painting.

Stacy Levy (American, b. 1960), River Eyelash, 2005, Duratrans digital art, painted buoys, steel washers, pink rope, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Photographs have played an important role in conceptual art, especially site-specific landscape installations. Pennsylvania based eco-artist artist Stacy Levy has created art installation projects around the world, focusing on patterns and progressions in nature. According to Levy, her site-specific installations are informed by her desire to carry on a dialogue with nature.

Forty-two strands of painted buoys radiate out from the concrete edge of Point State Park, creating an eyelash for the city. Created as part of the annual Pittsburgh Three Rivers Arts Festival in 2005, Levy’s installation measured the different wind and water waves and currents created at the junction where the Monongahela and Allegheny form the Ohio River and was showcased in the exhibition Stacy Levy: Collaborations with Nature at the Gallery in 2014.

Learn more about Levy and her work in the exhibit catalog Stacy Levy: Collaborations with Nature (2014):

Tina Bakowski

Tina Bakowski ’87 graduated from Lebanon Valley College with a bachelor’s degree in music and has earned additional degrees in music from the University of Kansas and Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University. Since 1998, she has been a music faculty member at Harrisburg Area Community College, and for many years served as the head of the music discipline. Bakowski studied photography at HACC and has produced a sizable portfolio of nature and documentary photography, with a specialty in collections of images that convey a sense of place. Examples of the latter include photo-documentary exploration of the Southwest Texas/Mexico border and Native American Pow Wows in Arizona and New Mexico.

Tina Bakowski ’87 (American, b. 1965), Hand of Promise (Cuewe-Pehelle statue), 2016, 12 x 16 inches, archival pigment print, Lebanon Valley College Fine Art Collection, 2016.2.2.

In her series of photographs for the 2016 Gallery exhibition LVC Reimagined, Bakowski was tasked with creating innovate expressions of the LVC campus. This photograph depicts the hand of Cuewe-Pehelle by Audrey Flack (American, b. 1931). In 1996, Flack was commissioned to create this larger-than-life-size bronze statue depicting a female allegorical figure representing the spirit of Lebanon Valley. Named “Cuewe-Pehelle” from the original Algonquin form of the word "Quittapahilla," the statue now graces the campus plaza honoring the Drs. Clark and Edna Carmean. The Flack creation brought the visual arts outdoors and contributed to the overall beauty of the College’s campus.

Abstract Photography

Though blurred human figures engaging in activities of urban life in 1830s daguerreotypes alluded to photography’s potential for abstraction, Music – A Sequence of Ten Cloud Photographs (1922) by Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864–1946) was the first intentional set of abstract photographs. Though they depicted observable nature, Stieglitz’s series used cloud forms as an abstract means of portraying music visually. Drawing inspiration from art movements such as Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism, abstract photography developed in dialog with other forms of abstract art through the twentieth century and continues to be explored in great variety within contemporary photography.

By using techniques such as atypical compositional framing or movement, photographers can obscure their images’ connections with the everyday world. In his work Chicago, displayed in the exhibition, photographer Aaron Siskind (American, 1903–1991), used a close-up focus on small details of typography and peeling graffiti in his work to create abstract images of the texture of urban environments.

Nicole Stager (American, b. 1978), Foothill, 2003, c-print (from non-reproducible chromogenic photogram), 12 x 12 inches, Lebanon Valley College Fine Art Collection, gift of Nicki Stager, 2015.3.1.

Nicole Stager’s colorful experiments with photogenic drawing recalls the earliest processes of producing an image on paper without a camera. In 1834, William Henry Fox Talbot (British,1800–1877) had made similar attempts, which he labeled photogenic drawings, meaning “drawing with light.” Stager uses a light source, an enlarger, and photosensitive paper to record the traces of drawing in air as seen in this photogram.

Alyssia Lazin (American), Imagine Beyond, 2009, archival pigment print on paper, 20 inches x 15 inches, Lebanon Valley College Fine Art Collection, gift of Alyssia Lazin, 2015.2.2.

In Imagine Beyond, the camera peers into a window only to have its vision blocked by the barrier of a curtain. However, the photograph invites the viewer to imagine what could lie behind and beyond the curtain, both with the title and the slight sliver of visibility the curtain does not mar, imbuing an ordinary window and curtain with a sense of mystery and wonder. –Rebecca Worhach ’16, Major: Art and Art History, Fall 2014 Gallery Intern

Pavel Kapic (Czech, b. 1942), Alyssia Lazin (American), Two to Tango, 2014, archival pigment print on paper with mixed media, 40 inches x 32 inches, Lebanon Valley College Fine Art Collection, purchased with the Suzanne Schrotberger Acquisition and Conservation Fund, 2015.2.1.

Czech painter Pavel Kapic distills memories into abstractions using the interplay of colors to evoke the baroque richness of his native Prague and the patterns of the Tuscan landscape surrounding him today. Fleeing his homeland in 1968 at the demise of the Prague Spring, Kapic immigrated to New York City. At Columbia University he continued his studies in statistics begun at Czech Polytechnic University, culminating in a master’s degree. Later he studied sculpture at the New School. During a work-study trip to Tuscany, Pavel was exposed to the region’s stone carving tradition and apprenticed as a carver. He eventually turned his full attention to art and studied painting at the Art Students League of New York. Currently, he works in a variety of media including oils, gouache, and ink.

Born in Lebanon, Pa., photographer Alyssia Lazin began her career as a photographic fashion model working for the renowned Ford Model Agency. She appeared in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Elle among other fashion publications and worked in New York City, Paris, Milan, and London. It was in this world that she learned about photography from some of the most famous photographers. After four years of modeling, Lazin was accepted into Yale University’s graphic design program where she earned an M.F.A. In New York City she founded a design studio, along with a Yale classmate. Lazin & Katalan eventually counted many Fortune 500 corporations, major American museums, and financial institutions among its clients and won awards from the American Institute of Graphic Arts.

In Two to Tango, husband and wife team Kapic and Lazin have joined their creative forces as part of a series of works known as “Confluence.” The collaboration process starts with jointly selecting Lazin’s photographs that would lend themselves to Kapic’s free interpretation. Kapic then uses the selected imagery as a departure point. Water soluble media are applied to stay true to the photograph’s color scheme and the watercolor paper of the photograph. The goal is to build on the original intent using Kapic’s symbolism, handwriting and color scheme to enhance rather than obliterate—in short, to create new imagery that could not exist without Lazin’s input.