REPENSER LE PICTORIALISME
Julien Faure-Conorton, CRAL – EHESS
« L’accoucheur d’idées » : Alfred Stieglitz et la
construction mémorielle du pictorialisme
L’influence considérable de la figure d’Alfred Stieglitz sur la photographie américaine dans la première moitié du XXe siècle n’est plus à démontrer. Pas plus que son rôle décisif dans le remarquable développement du pictorialisme américain. Partant de ces deux constats, notre intervention souhaite étudier la manière dont les différentes actions menées par Stieglitz pour promouvoir la photographie artistique aux États-Unis au tournant du XXe siècle lui ont permis de façonner la mémoire du mouvement pictorialiste en en écrivant une certaine histoire dont le récit fut par la suite repris et canonisé par les historiens du médium. Ce qu’on a retenu du pictorialisme – américain mais également européen – est avant tout ce qu’Alfred Stieglitz a voulu qu’on en retienne. Cette élaboration patiente et réfléchie d’une histoire « officielle » est passée par différents biais, de l’organisation d’expositions manifestes à l’édition de luxueuses publications, dont la plus emblématique demeure bien sûr Camera Work. La collection constituée par Stieglitz, et dont il s’est, à la fin de sa vie, assuré de l’institutionnalisation, a également joué un rôle déterminant dans l’écriture de cette histoire. À travers l’examen de certains choix opérés par le photographe américain, nous analyserons le processus de construction d’un discours mémoriel du pictorialisme voulu et orchestré par cet « accoucheur d’idées » qu’était Alfred Stieglitz.
Rachel Sailor, University of Wyoming
The Visual Poetics of Discordant Memory: Pictorialist Photographs of Native Americans in Twentieth-Century America
Pictorialist photography as it continued in America in the first half of the twentieth century was, based on its origins in the symbolist movement of the European avant-garde in the previous century, an imaginative expression of universal truth—an often beautiful rendering of the human condition. As one photographer noted in 1929, “A pictorial photograph transforms the objects with which it treats so that the object becomes the general pattern of a whole group. In other words, the step from ‘record’ to ‘pictorial’ is that from the specific to the general, from objects to symbols, from prose to poetry.” While generally understood by a significant number of photographers of America in the years before WWII, given the populist nature of photography, the symbolist approach unsurprisingly eluded many.
The ensuing problems associated with continued use of the style are none so striking as when photographers applied it to images of twentieth-century Native Americans. The style and subject pairing was not only incongruous, but also created serious cognitive dissonance in photographers and viewers who sought to understand the “universal truth” of the images. The photographs were perceived, according to the narrative writing in photographic journals, as both art and record, as both of-the-moment and of-the-past—a contemporaneous subject that was also a memory of and memorial to the past. Moreover, pictorialist photographs perpetuated colonialist ideologies shaped in the previous era, of the “frontier myth” and of the “vanishing Indian.” This paper will argue that a special relationship existed between the pervasive twentieth century pictorialist style and the entrenched misperceptions about native peoples. Ultimately, the inarticulateness of the style when paired with native subjects was not only untenable, but was a striking manifestation of the confusion surrounding both.
 Frank Novak, “What is Pictorial Photography?” Photo-Era: The American Journal of Photography, Oct. 4, 1929; 63.4: 179.
Carolin Görgen, Université Paris VII / École du Louvre, Paris, France
“Out here it is different” – the California Camera Club’s extended definition of Pictorialism
Focusing on the extensive network of amateur photographers of the San Francisco-based California Camera Club, this paper seeks to re-evaluate the history of American pictorialist photography in the period between 1890 and 1915 by deliberately extending its geographical, cultural, and social reach. Considering photography as a useful local practice for formulating a visual identity of California, the photographers of the Club sought esthetically-pleasing and historically-meaningful motifs in order to legitimize their region’s cultural role on a national scale. Through the dissemination of their work in magazines and the active participation in and organization of pictorial salons, the members of the Club articulated their own voice. The circulating images of an idiosyncratic Californian esthetic and its historical venues then illustrated a visual corpus which would lend artistic and cultural authority to the state. The attractive visual potential of California as well as its inclusive network of photographers would provide the region with authenticity – as opposed to its alleged historical and cultural void.
Relying on a vast corpus of magazines, albums, and lectures of the turn of the century, I consider this period as a moment of awareness of the performative function of collective photo networks which would become all the more elaborate in the wake of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. Fueled by dynamic photographic exchanges before and even more so after the disaster, the photographers actively sought recognition from established Eastern societies while consciously defining their very own local flavor. In examining the tensions between the appropriation of a local style and the attempted insertion into a national history, this paper aims at a re-appreciation of an underestimated corpus, often flatly denied in the seemingly linear narrative of Californian photography from Carleton Watkins to Ansel Adams.
Inspired by recent research conducted in European photographic history, this paper seeks to move beyond art-historical concerns by infusing the study of Pictorialism with cultural and historical elements from the largely neglected Pacific Coast. What is at stake here is the revision of a narrow historiographical canon by re-appreciating the bulk of archival material and hence providing a new understanding of the diversification of photographic practices in the early twentieth century.