Art nouveau, Art deco, beginnings of the Avant-garde.
Well before the end of the 19th century, art photography ceased to be a matter for individual endeavor. Amateur photographers began to organize themselves into clubs, working towards qualities comparable with painting and graphic art. Portrait photographers devoted themselves to the surpassing of the routine production of professional studios. The medium became divided into “art” and “non-art” categories. The amateur photographers were soon joined by some of the professionals themselves; Franz Grainer was among the firsts.
In landscape photography it was felt necessary that description, mere “copying of reality", be avoided. Morning and night shots intended to evince mood or emotion came to the fore, at the expense of exact description (Vladimir J. Bufka). Representation of the ordinary in non-ordinary fashion also became popular.
A subject demanded attention by means of the originality or subtlety with which it was represented. The craft and science of photography also sought to leave the previous era far behind. Gelatin-silver emulsions were progressively replaced by painstaking noble manipulative processes such as gum print, oil print and bromoil print (platinum print and carbon print had already been invented). That photographic positives had turned into graphic prints, thoroughly demanding in nature and highly reliant on the feel, experience and manual skills of the artist, became an integral part of arguments for the acknowledgment of photography as art, at a time when purely mechanical “imprints of reality" had no chance to be viewed as art.
The work of Jaroslav Rossler, a pioneer of European avant-garde photography, bears witness to the intertwining of various styles and technical approaches in the period before the situation in photography crystallized. Rossler initially employed oil print and bromoil print to produce photographs in the vein of art deco (Miss Gerta) and cubo-futurism (Ore Tarraco), but soon for purely photogenic works as well (Brother).
|Alois Zych c.1912|
|Frantisek Drtikol 1925|
|Julie Jireckova c.1908.|
|Julius Andres 1930|
Photography as a Harvest of Light and Shadow
After the establishment of the state of Czechoslovakia in 1918, the Czech Club of Amateur Photographers in Prague came to lie at the centre of amateur photography. It united the young men returning from the Great War and respected protagonists of the ﬁrst phase of art photography, groups utterly different in terms of generation, social class and, above all, background experience. The existence of the new state was especially exciting for the younger photographers, dreaming of their future, stimulating them to intense and innovative work that was to enhance Czechoslovakia‘s proﬁle at international photographic salons. The novel approaches of the younger artists inevitably clashed with the old-fashioned tastes of those photographers who cultivated the noble manipulative processes. From 1920 until the end of the decade. the amateur milieu was the scene of clashes between the generations, with the trio of Jaromir Funke, Adolf Schneeberger and Josef Sudek on the revolutionary side, later joined by Rudolf Padouk and Jan Lauschmannn.
světla a stínu [The Harvest of Light and Shadow] (1910) by Jaroslav Petralr, the ﬁrst Czech book on art photography, inadvertently and prophetically gave a name to the future. ln the early 1920's, the amateur scene was inﬂuenced and shaped by Drahomír J. Ružička, an acclaimed amateur photographer and doctor from New York. Ružička believed that the manner in which llght was depicted was more important than actual description. He impressed Czech photographers with non-manipulated yet visually perfect prints, and played midwife co the birth of a Czech mutation of an art photography strategy that had been highly topical in the USA in the previous decade. This “new school’, although often inspired by impressionism and expressionism was not primarily based on competition with painting, but on the ability of the photographic medium to communicate visual perception and experience. Soft-focus optical reproduction of the subject became a common denominator for the majority of photographs.
|Drahomir Josef Ruzicka1918|
|Drahomir Josef Ruzicka1930|
|Jan Halasa 1943|
|Otmar Schick 1934|
*Images and text from the exhibition.