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Pictorialism in Pittsburgh

June 1 - August 19, 2006


(above: Pittsburghesque, 1947 (c) Selden I. Davis)


Silver Eye Center for Photography is presenting Pictorialism in Pittsburgh through August 19, 2006. Western Pennsylvania is home to the country's oldest continuously operating Pictorialist group, The Photographic Section of The Academy of Science and Art of Pittsburgh, which traces its roots to 1885. Pictorialism in Pittsburgh showcases images by 32 historically acclaimed image-makers from this group, including Charles K. Archer, Selden I. Davis, Oscar C. Reiter, Orlando E. Romig, Hew Charles Torrance, as well as 15 current day practitioners from throughout the Pittsburgh area. (left: Lone Commuter, ca.1960 (c)  Richard Stites, Pittsburgh, PA)

The exhibition features 61 prints that pay tribute to Pittsburgh's rich photographic past, and present with both historic and contemporary artists who follow the Pictorialist tradition. Pictorialism popularized the soft-focus lens as well as a variety of developing and printing techniques to create a carefully composed moment. While nature subjects still represent a high percentage of pictorial work, these images have been stretched to encapsulate any theme that can create an artistic/pleasant/creative image. Subject matter ranges from landscapes, to portraits, to genre scenes. Each is presented in a romantic and gently lit manner. 

Valentino Buttignol, Historian for The Photographic Section of The Academy of Science and Art of Pittsburgh for the past 29 years and Co-curator of Pictorialism in Pittsburgh believes that this exhibition "is a very rare opportunity to see and learn abut the Salon photography that began in the late 1890s, and continues through today's 'Modernist' styles and technologies. It presents 46 prints from the Photo Section's 'Permanent Print Collection' ­ an impressive collection of over 700 images from a number of recognized Salon photographers." 

Near the end of the 19th century, George Eastman invented a hand-held camera that he called the Kodak. In many ways, this little box transformed the world of photography because it made picture-taking accessible to virtually anyone. Most people were thrilled with this marvelous apparatus but some thought it would steer photography in the wrong direction. They wanted photography to promote camera art and so banded together in what came to be known as Pictorialist Societies. In Britian, it was the Linked Ring; in France, La Photo Clube de Paris; in Germany the Wiener Kamera Klub; and the largest and most influential one in the United States, led by Alfred Stieglitz, was the Photo-Secession. Pictorialists, in essence, seceded from commercial and scientific discussions of the era and instead focused on time-honored classical themes of beauty, elegance, and other aesthetic ideas. Nostalgic, foggy renderings of industrial and railway scenes were also very popular, as well as readily available to those who captured images in the "Smoky City" of Pittsburgh throughout much of the twentieth century. 

Pictorialist Societies sprang up throughout the United States including in Pittsburgh where The Photographic Section of The Academy of Science and Art traces its roots to 1885 making it the longest continuously operating Pictorialist group in the country. Members of all societies were dedicated to the notion of the fine print as an artistic object, much like a painting or a drawing. Sometimes only one print was made from any given negative. Even when it was not a one-of-a-kind print, there were typically only a few made. The members would send their photographic prints around the country, and even abroad, to be judged in competitions. Successful entries would then acquire a certificate that was attached to the back of the mount as a badge of honor. The more colorful the back of the mount, the more acclaim it had received by jurors. (right: Skylight, 1953 (c) Alan H. Sperling, Pittsburgh, PA)

Early in the 20th century, Pittsburgh was renowned for its exclusive Pittsburgh Photo Salon that premiered in 1914 and continued annually for 75 years. Amateur and professional photographers submitted work, hoping to be accepted to display photographs and win awards. Among the most noteworthy local members on exhibit in Pictorialism in Pittsburgh, whose work is now included in important photography collections nationwide, are Charles K. Archer, Orlando E. Romig, and Oscar C. Reiter. Their misty, soft focus images of Western Pennsylvania scenes, and beyond, are skillfully presented in a variety of printing processes, including bromoil, carbon, and variously toned prints that are difficult to achieve and even more difficult to replicate. These prints was perfectly consistent with the goals of Pictorialism of creating not simply a beautiful image, but also an art object. 

Linda Benedict-Jones, Executive Director of Silver Eye and Co-curator of Pictorialism in Pittsburgh is tremendously excited to introduce this exhibition based on recent events in the art world. She explains, "Pictorialism is back in the news again! After the recent sale of a 1906 Steichen Pictorialist image in New York for 2. 9 million dollars -- the highest price ever paid for a photograph -- there is an enormous revival of interest in the Pictorialist aesthetic. It's wonderful for Silver Eye to be on the cutting edge of the re-discovery of this wonderful approach to image-making."  

Pittsburghesque, a photograph by Selden I. Davis is arguably one of the most important images made of Pittsburgh. The picture captures a steam train, a representation of Pittsburgh's industrial nature on a grey day in downtown Pittsburgh. It depicts the emotional power of light and texture within a photograph, which was fundamental to the Pictorialist movement. Pittsburghesque won numerous awards, was published in photography magazines and was selected as one of the signature images in the Carnegie Museum's exhibition and publication, Pittsburgh Revealed

Alan H. Sperling's image Skylight, included in the exhibition, provides a compelling example of the strength of Pittsburgh's architecture. The photograph features a woman bathed in rays of light and shadow from an overpass. This picture combines the soft focus of Pictorialism with the geometric shapes associated with Modernism. 

Pictorialism in Pittsburgh also includes one photograph each by fifteen current-day members of The Photo Section who now incorporate color into their image-making, adding a modern day dimension to the beauty of earlier approaches. The Photo Section has over one hundred members that meet monthly in Mt. Lebanon where they discuss current and historic photographic matters. 

Participating Contemporary Photographers from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Tom Delegram, David Keljo, Mike Ruyechan, Kal Ghoshhajra, Ellen Krongod, Mary Lou Smith, Ralph R. Gurley,  Carl Palka, Norman W. Schumm, Dennis Harding, Carl Pascarella, James E. Trigg, Marian V. Hissem, Jesse Powell and Edward G. Yokajty

Programming in conjunction with Pictorialism in Pittsburgh includes educational workshops for photographers and an exciting excursion into a cave under Iron Mountain to view important art archives. In addition, authors Bob Regan and Tim Fabian will speak about their recently published book: Bridges of Pittsburgh. Silver Eye will also be co-sponsoring a class led by Linda Benedict-Jones called American Photography: Pictorialism to F/64 with the Carnegie Musuem of Art in July.

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