Edward Steichen (1879 -1973)
Mask of Hanako
H. 24 cm ; W. 20 cm
In 1907, a turning-point in the history of photography, Steichen’s friend, Alfred Stieglitz, took a picture entitled The Steerage, an image that marked the transition from Pictorialism to “pure photography”, a movement that, unlike its predecessor, condemned any sort of image manipulation. This evolution could also be seen in Steichen’s work after his famous series on the Monument to Balzac , dating from 1908,in the shots of Hanako, taken between 1911 and 1913. The choice of a more difficult, more fragile subject is striking. There is no question here of imitating painterly effects.
Everything comes into play at the moment the picture is taken, using the medium’s own means: light, focusing, depth of field, perspective, angle. From then on, Steichen no longer explored image-altering effects. He printed his photographs with what Europeans considered a particularly soft use of contrast, on platinotype paper, since this process had the advantage of producing a wide range of greys from the negative plate.While Pictorialism had enabled photography to free itself from its “scientific tool” label and join the other artistic disciplines, this movement did not outlive the revolution it had brought about. Photography’s emancipation and acceptance as an art form in its own right would stem from the recognition of its individual, reality-bound aesthetic.