Photography in its early days was seen more as a mechanical and scientific process than a new medium for art. Throughout the 1800’s, photography was often defined simply as a process to capture a visible reality. Even the most aesthetically pleasing and creative images produced for most of the 19th century were understood to be something technical and less than artistic.
The Pictorial movement of the late 1800’s helped change the way certain photography was interpreted and appreciated. The expression “a pictorial art” began to define certain types of photography and link the medium more closely to the field of Fine Arts. This international aesthetic movement characterized photography between 1890 and 1914, paving the way for 20th century fine art photographers worldwide to have their works respected across the art world.
One contributor to the pictorial movement was German photographer Rudoph Duhrkoop (1848-1918), a former railroad worker who began his photography career in his mid-thirties, focusing on commercial photography and experimenting with lighting and the use of shadows. Duhrkoop was greatly influenced by the German Modernist movement, and within a few years of opening his commercial studio, in 1882, he began focusing primarily on artistic portraiture.
Duhrkoop would start exhibiting his work in 1899 to much acclaim. Poet and Hamburg art critic Sadakichi Hartmann wrote of Duhrkoop, “To him a portrait is not merely a record, not merely actuality, but the means by which he can give utterance to poetic sentiments and aspirations. He revels in the mysteries of light and shade.”
As the next century began, Duhrkoop began to build his reputation outside of Germany. He was elected to England’s prestigious Linked Ring and Royal Photographic Society and received an honorary membership into the elite London Salon of Photography. He also visited the United States and met with several well-known American photographers. He received several honors in Germany, most notably the “Medal of Progress” by the Suddeutschen Photographie-Verein. In 1907, Mr. Duhrkoop was named Photographic Advisor to the German government, with whom it would consult on various copyright issues. He would continue serving as an advocate for photographers and copyright issues until his death in 1918.
All images in this post are by Rudolph Duhrkoop and from the Sepia Times collection, represented by UIG.
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Aesthetics of Photography