Artibus et Historiae no. 48 (XXIV)

2003, ISSN 0391-9064

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JAMES S. ACKERMAN - The Photographic Picturesque

In the early years of photography (1839-ca 1860), it was not evident that works of art should be the photographer's model: the process opened up the potential of a virtually unlimited range of imagery, but many practitioners chose fine art as a model because of its elevated status This paper examines the relation of the first photographers of landscape and architecture to the tradition of the Picturesque and aims to provide fresh grounds for assessing the reception of photography in the first years of its existence The Picturesque aesthetic, developed in Britain in the eighteenth century and exemplified in the work of the foremost painters, draftsmen and poets, sought to apply the principles of classical seventeenth-century landscape painting not only to pictures but also to the reception of actual landscapes and to the creation of landscape gardens. It was grounded in a patriotic ideology that equated the undeveloped landscape with the nation and was accompanied by a huge increase in touring and in a travel literature that supported and encouraged tourism. Illustrations in travel books propagated a widespread familiarity with Picturesque principles, which also were articulated by theorists and guidebook authors. Prior to the 1850s, (when technical advances prompted practitioners to move beyond the limits of traditional imagery), photographers, seeking to define what could be done with the medium, found inspiration in the subjects and compositions of earlier Picturesque imagery.

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