Exploring the Roots of a Fine Art
by Brian Goslow
Intended to celebrate “an intrepid and colorful group of photographers at the turn of the 20th century on both sides of the Atlantic who fought to establish photography as a fully-fledged fine art, coequal with painting, sculpture and etching,” this exhibition, organized by art2art Circulating Exhibitions, represents much more than an art form. I’d argue that “Photo-Secession: Painterly Masterworks of Turn-of-the-Century Photography,” currently on view at the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts at Springfield Museums,” features work that not only served as the blueprint for the photographers who followed them, but helped create what we call, “The American Dream.”
“The exhibition shows how photography was developed into an art form,” said Springfield Museums curator of art, Julia Courtney. At the forefront, then as well as in this exhibition, Alfred Stieglitz, “with one eye on what was taking place in Europe and the other on bringing it to America,” created interest in how photography developed at the time and progressed to modernism.
“He was looking at the things the Impressionists did with the light, with the movement of light,” Courtney noted, adding that the new generation of photographers were using soft lenses and doing their own printing to assure they got the results they were after.
The show takes its name from “The Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession,” Stieglitz’s New York City exhibition space that played a key role in this achievement. The 78-work show, displayed in three separate areas, is enhanced by the inclusion of issues of “Camera Work,” a magazine created by Stieglitz that was published from 1903 through 1917 and unabashedly stated that it was “read wherever photography is taken seriously” and that “Its subscribers throughout the world read it from cover to cover and keep it for future reference.”
For this exhibition, the D’Amour Museum main exhibition space contains a head-spinning number of influential works. At its center is Stieglitz’s 1907 hand-pulled photogravure, “The Steerage.” Fascinating both for its composure and capturing of a time when thousands traveled across the sea by boat — the photographer and his family were traveling on the Kaiser Wilhelm II from New York to Paris — it set the standard for what an unstaged photo should be, and is widely acknowledged as being the first to define the “Modernist” photograph.