Charles Marville, Popular Illustrator: The Origins Of A Photographic Sensibility

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History Of Photography


Although they have taken the history of photography out of the curio cabinet and enshrined it in the art museum, scholars and critics continue to find the nature of photography as an art problematical. Frequently unresolved is the question of whether particular ‘beautiful’ or ‘original’ photographs are the conscious achievements of photographers who appreciated the extent to which photographic processes could be manipulated and who intentionally exploited them to anticipated ends, or whether such works are only happy accidents for which the authors cannot legitimately be awarded credit. The latter assumption is especially likely in considerations of early photographs from the mid 19th-century, when there barely existed a photographic tradition from which might be derived the fundamentals of an aesthetic either distinguishing photography from other art forms or articulating common ground. A further, related, supposition is that many of the early photographers, those whose purposes were overtly documentary — for example those who accompanied government survey teams in the American Far West or who in France photographed architecture for the Commission des Monuments Historiques — laboured free of artistic pretensions or preconceptions. Thus Edward Weston, condemning predecessors like the pictorialists who ‘attempted … to make the camera produce painter-like results’, in the process perpetrating ‘a great many horrors … from allegorical costume pieces to dizzying out of focus blurs’, could laud early photographic pioneers as forebears of straight photography, asserting

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