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February 5: Simplicity
February 5: I often wonder if adherents of astrology read this blog, given its premise of posting about events of the day; often prompted by it being the date of birth of a photographer.
However, two of today’s three photographers, who share a predilection for simplification, died on this date; Hugh Owen in 1897 and Franz Feidler in 1956. I may have this all wrong, but I assume that the death of an individual is not set by the stars, so surely it would not affect their personality? Nevertheless, of a similar inclination toward simple solutions is the solo exhibitor, Martina Sauter, of Duplications and Differences which opens tonight at Van der Mieden Gallery in Antwerp, Belgium.
First, to one who advanced Henry Fox Talbot’s talbotype and calotype through his own prodigious efforts across a range of genres.
One could be forgiven for thinking Trees with tangled roots the product of a disciple of twentieth-century photographers Minor White or Ansel Adams, or of Edward Weston (see left).
These West Coast practitioners, who had shaken off Pictorialism by the 1930s in favour of shooting in sharp detail, isolated significant elements of the landscape, especially the gale-tortured cypresses of the rocky coastal cliffs, and increasingly abstracted them through the 1950s to the 1970s in expression ofreligious and philosophical concerns.
Likewise, the Art Journal of Feb 1854, pg. 48, notes;
Mr. Hugh Owen, with the eye of an artist, selects bits out of the tangled forest, the Path of the Torrent, or the depths of the glen, which must prove treasures to a landscape-painter.
His eye is for details instead of sweeping vistas preferred by the painters of the prevailing Romantic movement which at this time started giving way to Realism, itself driven, in the opinion of many art historians, by the appearance of photography, and by industrialisation. As members of Victorian society, the calotypists of the first generation used photography to express their anxiety over social and technological changes. Their lenses instead turned to the past, away from industrialisation.
Owen’s photograph of a derailed train, that may have been made in connection with his job as cashier for Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Great Western Railway in Bristol, is not typical of his imagery of the countryside. Seen by his peers as a place for sporting activities with fresh air and pure water, but retreating before the onset of the railway, the mines and the burgeoning industrial towns, nature was idealised and the rustic admired.
So compounded with the putative benefits of nature was the ‘picturesque’ that for the generation of the 1850s it became not simply a term of aesthetic judgement, but an embedded comprehension of Nature. And when Hugh Owen photographed a tree with its roots exposed he was expressing a sensitivity of Victorian society.
With such finely composed and exquisitely rendered photographs as Branches and roots in dry riverbed, Hugh Owen, amateur photographer, was “well known for his talent in his art…whose various views…justified the reputation which he has earned,” when his work was shown at the Calotype Society exhibition in London in 1847, not ten years into the history of chemical photography.
Hugh Owen ( before 1855) Harvest scene with stooks, albumen print, 1860s-1870s, from a paper negative, 17.2 x 22.3 cm
Hugh Owen (before 1855) Washing place with basket, albumen print, 1860s-1870s, from a paper negative, 17.4 x 22.2 cm
Owen started out making daguerreotypes in the early 1840s when in March 1845, about to give a lecture on photography to the Bristol Mechanics Institute & Philosophical Society, he wrote to Talbot to ask for some examples with which to illustrate his lecture. These must have impressed him because he then arranged to learn to make calotypes from the inventor himself, Talbot.
Owen became a master of the paper negative and soon was “able to execute ten large-size Talbotypes of local scenery in a day, each paper being prepared on the spot” using a simple device, a glass rod which he used to evenly and thinly spread the emulsion onto his paper in preparation for exposure.
Just as photography began to be used to document works of fine art, in 1842 Ernest Gambart was established in London specialising in importing art prints from Europe and by 1846 was one of the first to begin to sell Talbotype photographs, though whether these included works of art or not is not clear, though most likely Talbot supplied prints from such images used for The Pencil of Nature. In 1858 Gambart contacted Talbot for help with the copying of Daniel Maclise’s 44 lead pencil drawings of the Story of the Norman Conquest to make steel plates for engraving.
The Great Exhibition held in London in 1851 was a pivotal moment for the evolution of photography from a small scale activity to a commercial mass market. During the exhibition a decision was made to produce a special set of presentation copies of the Reports by the Juries on the subjects in the 30 classes constituting the exhibition’s displays. 122 presentation copies each containing 154 tipped-in original photographic prints were to be produced and sent to participating governments. No single job of this size; the production of such a large number of prints – over 20, 000 – had ever been undertaken.
Talbot held the patent on use of the calotype so the Executive Committee was obliged to employ Nicholas Henneman, a Talbot licensee and previously Talbot’s valet and assistant and now operating a photography business in London, to take and then make prints to illustrate the presentation sets of the Reports. Before becoming aware of the patent restrictions and hiring Henneman, they used Hugh Owen, who possessed an amateur’s licence (with it he could practice the calotype process but not sell his pictures), who had offered his services free.
The Commissioners nonetheless wished to compensate him for his work and wrote to Talbot for his permission.
Nicholas Henneman had managed Talbot’s photographic printing works at Reading, supervising the mass production of prints for ThePencil of Nature and thus was a logical choice given the magnitude of the Reports by the Juries. However Talbot and Henneman became embroiled in a dispute over the quality and permanence of Henneman’s work and his prices, and ultimately it was Owen’s calotypes and Martens’, Ferrier’s and Bingham’s salt prints from albumen-on glass negatives that were used.
Franz Fiedler’s imagery of the early twenties, when he was in his mid-twenties, is distinguished by simplification through flattening of the image plane typical of the Art Nouveau-influenced international Pictorialist style. However Fiedler’s subject matter is eccentric, a recreation of imagery of the figure of death found in German Renaissance painting particularly that of Hans Bildung Grien…
Fiedler was apprenticed in Pilsen in 1905 and again in 1912 with Rudof Dührkoop in Hamburg, and from 1908 to 1911 with Hugo Erfurth in Dresden.
The influence of both of these photographers is evident in his use of shallow space, though his imagery takes itself less seriously. He associated with Czech writer and satirist Jaroslav Hašek, known for the dark comedy The Good Soldier Švejk, and with crusading reporter Egon Kisch who both clearly influence his perspective. A brilliant photographer, he was rewarded with a first prize at the 1911 world exhibition in Turin, and exhibited successfully in Prague in 1913. His subject for these images may well be his wife Erna Hauswald photographed in their studio at Sedanstraße 7, Dresden.
Bromoil, allowing the editing of image detail further simplifies the design in this printing.
Meeting Madame d’Ora (Dora Kallmus) of Vienna and he began to work with a 9×12 folding camera.
The Jugensthil influence, including that of fellow Moravian Alphonse Mucha, on Feidler’s imagery gave way to that of the Modernism of Der Neue Sachlichkeit, and he became one of the first professional photographers to use a Leica in 1924 and took part in the exhibition “Film und Foto” in Stuttgart.
Martina Sauter whose Duplications and Differences opens tonight at Van der Mieden Gallery in Antwerp, Belgium investigates cinema with photography, fiction and non-fiction. She combines a recently taken photograph with a film still, thus creating a new muse en scene, recruiting everyday perspective of transitional spaces and nondescript architectural details of doors, corners, hallways and stairs into a mesh of intrigue and suspense.
On inspection it becomes apparent that one image layers over the other, almost seamlessly, were the uppermost image edge not raised a fraction above the lower. She achieves through careful selection of her pairs (or more) of images, the found and the made, a montage that it would not occur to most digital imagers to do by hand, with a matt cutter.
The viewer is placed in the position of the spectator, eavesdropper, spy, and we derive one pleasure of clandestinely observing emotional innuendo and tension that result from the collision of images from different sources, and another from seeking out the photomontage suture.