Before there was Photoshop III ….Photo-Secession


The Photo-Secession (circa 1902–1907) was a period of photography where photographers fought to have photography taken seriously as an art form. The box brownie came out a few years earlier, and costing $1 photography was affordable to the masses. Photography was seen as a non art form as it simply mechanical reproduced reality and couldn’t be compared to painting or drawing. Basic photography had become so easier

Alfred Stieglitz (January  1864 – July, 1946) was an American photographer and modern art promote. He was also instrumental in founding the Photo-Secession who was instrumental over his fifty-year career in making photography an accepted art form.he wanted to take photography away from what e called “Commercial Trash” and a new form need to be developed to separate it from “Artless amateur photography”.


“Pictorialism” as it became known were the first to regularly adopt tricks like Vaseline on the lens or scratching the negative in the darkroom, or paint chemicals on the prints to look like brush strokes. The aim was to make photography a hand made product like the other arts.  The images didn’t look like photos, they had a sketchiness. The idea being that simply pushing a button wouldn’t make art it needed human intervention.


Around 1900 Stieglitz suffered from several “episodes” that he latter characterized as mental breakdowns. While Stieglitz was recuperating he corresponded with photographer Eva Watson-Schütze, who urged him to use his influence (as the publisher of “Camera Works”) to put together an exhibition that would be judged solely by photographers. Until that time all photographic exhibitions had been juried by painters and other types of artists, many of whom knew little about photography and its technical characteristics.

The following notice appeared in Camera Work, no. 3, Supplement, July 1903


The Photo-Secession

“So many are the enquiries as to the nature and aims of the Photo- Secession and requirements of eligibility to membership therein, that we deem it expedient to give a brief résumé of the character of this body of photographers.
The object of the Photo-Secession is: to advance photography as applied to pictorial expression; to draw together those Americans practising or otherwise interested in the art, and to hold from time to time, at varying places, exhibitions not necessarily limited to the productions of the Photo-Secession or to American work.
It consists of a Council (all of whom are Fellows); Fellows chosen by the Council for meritorious photographic work or labours in behalf of pictorial photography, and Associates eligible by reason of interest in, and sympathy with, the aims of the Secession.
In order to give Fellowship the value of an honour, the photographic work of a possible candidate must be individual and distinctive, and it goes without saying that the applicant must be in thorough sympathy with our aims and principles.
To Associateship are attached no requirements except sincere sympathy with the aims and motives of the Secession. Yet, it must not be supposed that these qualifications will be assumed as a matter of course, as it has been found necessary to deny the application of many whose lukewarm interest in the cause with which we are so thoroughly identified gave no promise of aiding the Secession. It may be of general interest to know that quite a few, perhaps entitled by their photographic work to Fellowship, have applied in vain. Their rejection being based solely upon their avowed or notoriously active opposition or equally harmful apathy. Many whose sincerity could not be questioned were refused Fellowship because the work submitted was not equal to the required standard. Those desiring further information must address the Director of the Photo-Secession, Mr. Alfred Stieglitz, 1111 Madison Avenue, New York.”



Pictorial photographers began by taking an ordinary glass-plate or film negative. Some adjusted the focus of the scene or used a special lens to produce a softer image, but for the most part the printing process controlled the final appearance of the photograph. Pictorialists used a variety of papers and chemical processes to produce particular effects, and some then manipulated the tones and surface of prints with brushes, ink or pigments. The following is a list of the most commonly used pictorial processes.

  • Bromoil: This is a variant on the oil print process that allows a print to be enlarged. In this process a regular silver gelatin print is made, then bleached in a solution of potassium bichromate. This hardens the surface of the print and allows ink to stick to it. Both the lighter and darker areas of a bromoil print may be manipulated, providing a broader tonal range than an oil print.
  • Carbon print: This is an extremely delicate print made by coating tissue paper with potassium bichromate, carbon black or another pigment and gelatin. Carbon prints can provide extraordinary detail and are among the most permanent of all photographic prints. Due to the stability of the paper both before and after processing, carbon printing tissue was one of the earliest commercially-made photographic products.
  • Cyanotype: One of the earliest photographic processes, cyanotypes experienced a brief renewal when pictorialists experimented with their deep blue color tones. The color came from coating paper with light-sensitive iron salts.
  • Gum bichromate: One of the pictorialists’ favorites, these prints were made by applying gum Arabic, potassium bichromate and one or more artist’s colored pigments to paper. This sensitized solution slowly hardens where light strikes it, and these areas remain pliable for several hours. The photographer had a great deal of control by varying the mixture of the solution, allowing a shorter or longer exposure and by brushing or rubbing the pigmented areas after exposure.
  • Oil print: Made by applying greasy inks to paper coated with a solution of gum bichromate and gelatin. When exposed though a negative, the gum-gelatin hardens where light strikes it while unexposed areas remain soft. Artist’s inks are then applied by brush, and the inks adhere only to the hardened areas. Through this process a photographer can manipulate the lighter areas of a gum print while the darker areas remain stable. An oil print cannot be enlarged since it has to be in direct contact with the negative.
  • Platinum print: Platinum prints require a two-steps process. First, paper is sensitized with iron salts and exposed in contact with a negative until a faint image is formed. Then the paper is chemically developed in a process that replaces the iron salts with platinum. This produces an image with a very wide range of tones, each intensely realized.

Photographers who were predominately pictorialists

  • James Craig Annan, 1846-1946, Scottish
  • Zaida Ben-Yusuf, 1898-1933, American
  • Fernand Bignon (1888-1969), French
  • Alice Boughton, 1866?-1943, American
  • Annie Brigman, 1869-1950, American
  • Jan Bułhak, 1876-1950, Polish
  • Julia Margaret Cameron1815-1879, English
  • Harold Cazneaux, 1878-1953, Australian
  • Rose Clark, 1852-1942, American
  • Alvin Langdon Coburn, 1882-1966, American/English
  • F. Holland Day, 1864-1933, American
  • George Davison, 1854-1930, English
  • Robert Demachy (1859-1936), French
  • Mary Devens, 1857-1920, American
  • Pierre Dubreuil (1872-1944), French
  • Rudolf Eickemeyer, Jr. (1862-1932), American
  • Peter Henry Emerson (1856-1936), English]
  • Frederick H. Evans (1853-1943), English
  • Frank Eugene, 1865-1936, American
  • Ogawa Isshin, 1860-1929, Japanese
  • Gertrude Käsebier (1852-1934), American
  • Kashima Seibei, 1866-1924, Japanese
  • Joseph Keiley, 1869-1914
  • Heinrich Kühn, 1866-1944, Austrian
  • Sarah Ladd, 1860-1927, American
  • Adelaide Hanscom Leeson, American
  • Eugene Lemaire (1874-1948), Belgian
  • Gustave Marissiaux (1872-1929), Belgian
  • Adoph de Meyer, 1868-1949, French/German
  • Léonard Missone (1870-1943), Belgian
  • Ogawa Kazumasa, 1860-1929, Japanese
  • Constant Puyo (1857-1933), French
  • Jane Reece, 1868?-1961, American
  • Henry Peach Robinson, 1830-1901, English
  • Sarah Choate Sears, 1858-1935, American
  • George Seeley, 1880-1955, American
  • Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), American
  • Karl Struss (1886-1981), American
  • Frank Sutcliffe, 1853-1941, English
  • John William Twycross 1871-1936, Australian
  • Elizabeth Flint Wade, 1849-1915, American
  • Eva Watson-Schütze, 1867-1935, American
  • Hans Watzek, 1843-1903, Austrian
  • Clarence H. White, 1871-1925, American
  • Myra Albert Wiggins, 1869-1956, American

Leave a Reply