Photography, Painting and Sculpture
Confining ourselves to this side of the Atlantic, American painters and sculptors, until a very recent date, were wont to sneer at and actually deride photography as an important adjunct of their professional work in the formative processes in their studios. This applied to the most distinguished masters of our native art. The late George Inney of A. H. Wyant at the head of landscapists would show their teeth in the wildest kind of wrath should one suggest there were artistic expression, tone, perspective or power in the finest examples produced by the camera. The same was true of our leading portrait painters and sculptors, and it was not until the very highest class of magazine and art journals in the United States and Europe put aside wood and other engraving for halftones after the camera, that the true art value of the latest development of the invention of Daguerre began to dawn upon and influence their professional workmanship. Such a phase of the innovation was made more emphatic by the deadly blow which this revolution in art methods dealt to the professional illustrators in black and white. There are also many other significant and collateral facts which tell on the potent influence which photography in its artistic treatment is bearing on the painting and sculpture of the present time. For example what educated artist of our generation goes afield to wrestle with his summer day "studies" in color in land or waterscape, in forest glen, in the varying phases of sky, sun, or moon, neglects to take with him a camera, finding on his return a new mystery and refinement in composition, before beyond his ken, by the product of his negatives. Many, of course, are not willing to allow this soft impeachment, but that makes the situation all the more interesting, for it only hastens the day when in its true relations to the higher arts, photography will assume without doubt or denial a positive position.
Another important feature but little known to connoisseurs who believe they have reached the acme of knowledge in portraiture, either in pigments, water color, pastels, or plastic art, is interesting. Artists in any one of those branches, who formerly affected to despise those who would work from photographs, when a living subject was available, now not only employ one negative made under their own eyes in the studio by a series embracing many views of the face and head, posed in a dozen different ways with photographic reproduction of draperies, differing arrangements of the hair, and so on. A celebrated sculptor in this city has been known to take as many as twenty-five negatives of a splendid subject, and then with his head and shoulder measurements with the callipers, say to her "I will only require one more sitting, and my work is done."
A propos of the subject above treated English technical and artistic writers on photography are pointing out a line of argument in harmony with our position. They claim that the misuse or misunderstanding of the word imitation and the true value that the representation of "things as they are" cannot result in artistic composition are even more plainly illustrated in the consideration of the conditions of portraiture than in landscape where so much has been achieved. In essence artistic composition is the same in one class of work as in the other, but this is often disputed or misunderstood.
Portraiture must concern itself chiefly with imitation, in the sense of personal pictorial expression. In a likeness, the person must be depicted as he is, that is, as he seems to us in the way we think the character best, shown or the aspect of the figure most natural, and cannot such a result be artistic in composition? Surely the limitations here for the photographer are very few indeed of an absolute nature. If the photographer has the necessary sympathetic influence over the sitter such as the painter-portraitist himself should possess, with the proper power of perception, and the ready and complete mastery of technique as to light and tone rendering, it is difficult to understand what is lacking for the particular purpose, save color.
That any artist should put into the portrait of a face more than ever could be expressed by that face at any one time is plainly absurd. Such a procedure implies a new face and character, and is not portraiture.
Albert S. Southworth