Photographic Means Applied To Artistic Expression

" This is the merit and distinction of Art : to be more real than reality, to be not Nature, but Nature s essence. It is the artist's function not to copy but to synthesise, to eliminate from the confusion of actuality, ■which is his raw material, whatever is accidental, idle, irrelevant, and select for perpetuation that only which is appropriate and immortal".


BUT a few years ago it would have been necessary to apologise for introducing into a book like this a chapter on Pictorial Photography ; today, no handbook intended to instruct and interest all classes of photographers, but chiefly the beginner, would be complete without a section devoted to what has become by far the most popular branch or application of photography. And yet, notwithstanding its popularity, a complete understanding of what it really means and how it should be practised is not common even amongst those whose whole concern in photography is with its pictorial side.

The very character of precision and prescription with which photography becomes identified during the time when we are learning the technicalities of the process tend to make the student regard any possible pictorial quality as something to be contributed by observing some formula or rules; a result to be achieved by the addition of certain ingredients. The very expression " picture-making," so common amongst us, betrays the presence of this idea as though a picture—that is, an artistic conception—could be made or built up of so much of this and so much of that, and flavoured to taste.

We use the term pictorial instead of artistic, first, because the latter has become so misappropriated as to have lost its proper significance; and, secondly, because it evades useless controversy as to whether photography applied to the expression of a personal idea or emotion may be regarded as an art. We photographers need not clamour to be called artists nor appeal for the admission of our work into the picture galleries, for we may rest assured that, by the great natural law which secures that the fittest shall survive, when our productions are worthy they will receive appropriate recognition, and secure a status which no spurious position won by importunity and much argument could bestow.

The reader of this chapter of the Barnet Book is probably as undesirous of argument or discussion as I should be loth to write it. I am not concerned in making converts, my task being to endeavour to explain what constitutes a pictorial photograph, and then to describe as best I can the means by which a pictorial result may be attained. I am well aware that to the artist the task of reducing that which with him seems to be purely a matter of feeling, emotion, and personal impression to anything like figures and formulae will appear vain and even contemptible ; nevertheless, it has been by such a road, first seeking the help of another until able to find an independent way of their own, that many of our leading and acknowledged workers have travelled. I do not think I shall tell the student anything that will mislead him or do him harm, but whether he turns it to good account as a means to higher things must depend upon himself.

I will turn first to landscape and general subjects, and, in imagination bearing my reader company into the country, will ask him to consider what we do when we carry the camera into the field to "take photographs".

Some scene strikes our fancy; up goes the camera. We level it, we swing it from side to side, focus it, and there is the view on the ground glass. Now why have we selected that particular scene ? What determines our wish to portray this scene more than any other visible from this or another point of view ?

Probably you have never paused to ask yourself that question ; you just liked it, it pleased you, and, as you know your camera and lens will give you an exact copy of it in miniature, you feel sure that the reproduction will also please you ; and, as you have always lived in the belief that Nature is beautiful, and truth to Nature a first principle in art, you are confident of securing a perfect picture, and congratulate yourself upon the fact that with so little trouble you can accomplish what the poor creature with pencils and paint-brushes must spend hours in achieving.

Wrong ! all wrong! We photographers are so apt to forget that during the years that the art student is learning to use his tools he is acquiring certain principles, and cultivating ideas of which the photographer often enough has never dreamed. The youthful draughtsman sets himself down to draw a single tree or only one branch of the tree, a single flower, a figure, and so forth—not the whole field of view, mark you; and hence he gradually comes to always regard Nature as centred round one chief object or idea. Even if the photographer were of the same frame of mind, the very comprehensiveness of his process fails to realise this detachment of interest.

So much the better, perhaps, you will say, because you are able to secure so much more of Nature's beauty. Ah! Now, before we go any further, I want you to read patiently the delivery of two statements which may sound like downright heretical nonsense ; nevertheless, I am going to ask you to try and believe them now unquestioned, and anon I think you will see the truth and reason of them.

First, then, Nature is not beautiful—that is, not always beautiful; I mean, of course, from an artistic standpoint; and, secondly, to copy Nature faithfully as a looking-glass does, and as the camera usually does, has nothing at all to do with pictorial art. I will repeat, Nature is not necessarily beautiful. Pictorial art is not a copy of Nature.

The first statement the reader will probably endorse more readily than the latter, because it must be evident to all that there are spots in Nature and aspects and conditions which are uninteresting and even repellent; but this is not all, and does not go far enough, for the point I want to lay down is that there are scenes in Nature which may please, attract, and even become famous for a certain kind of beauty, which are not in the narrowest or literal sense " picturesque." There are certain conditions and qualities in a natural sense, which I propose presently to describe, which are necessary ere that scene is suitable for pictorial treatment. Admirable and beautiful as is the music of many birds singing in the wood, it is not music in the artistic or aesthetic sense. Ordinary speech is not artistic language or poetry; there must be definite arrangement and composition, and so trees and flowers and hills and rivers falling just anyhow, as oftentimes they do in the little bit of Nature which we can include in our representation, may in a manner delight us, yet they will not when so depicted make any lasting appeal to the senses, and so it comes about that it is necessary to select carefully a point of view from which the various objects so group themselves as to be in accordance with artistic requirements of composition, and the more so that the photographer can by so very little alter in his picture the relative positions of the various objects.