In the section entitled ‘Truth in Photography’ within my course workbook, the photographer Oscar Reijlander is referred to, by mention of his famous photograph, The Two Ways of Life (1857).
I have not (unsurprisingly) encountered his work before and so felt like researching his work a little further before moving on to other exercises. In my research I came across two main intitutions which housed collections of his photographs online; The J.Paul Getty Museum and The National Media Museum.
The J.Paul Getty collection of Reijlander’s works, here, reveal a photographer whose work linked the world of the artist with the work of the photographer. It is said that Reijlander believed photography could be used a study or reference point for painters who wanted to improve their draughtsmanship. He earned a small living producing photographic studies for artists. It’s clear looking at some of these photographs that he drew his inspiration from Renaissance paintings. From my perspective it’s fascinating to see an early example of someone exploring art through the medium of portraiture. At times this looks like mimicry rather than art in its own right, but I think this shifted as he became more practised.
Attributed to Oscar Gustave Rejlander (British, born Sweden, 1813 – 1875)
[Portrait of A Young Girl], about 1870, Albumen silver print
16.7 x 12.5 cm (6 9/16 x 4 15/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
The Image opposite has a clear likeness to Renaissance paintings of female figures, the lighting, pose and dress of the young girl seem to be in that same style or vein. Likewise in the image below, The Disciple, the subject of the photography itself is strongly connected to Renaissance ideas and studies around Christianity or Christian figures/types.
For me, its remarkable to think of this as a photograph, an object in its own right as well as a piece of art. It looks like an image that someone might create today in an effort to capture Renaissance ideals with modern technology. It certainly shows, reveals that such ideas of re-appropriation are not a modern phenomenon.
The final image from the Getty collection I wanted to comment is seen below, The Infant Photographer Giving the Painter an Additional Brush, is fascinating.
Oscar Gustave Rejlander (British, born Sweden, 1813 – 1875)
The Infant Photography Giving the Painter an Additional Brush, about 1856, Albumen silver print
6 × 7.1 cm (2 3/8 × 2 13/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Below the image on the Getty Museum website is a really insightful commentary on the photograph, which you can read here. I think the composition of the photograph is fascinating as an early exploration of photography as art. The photograph is highly allegorical in its construction; the infant representing the early stages of the medium of photography, the paintbrush and artists hand representing traditional painting, another form of traditional art is seen in the sculpture in the left hand corner. Reijlander has also captured himself in the photograph, you can just about make out his reflection in the mirror as he takes the photograph. I think it really shows how photography can be used to similar affect as a painting.
Interestingly enough – according to this article from the National Media Museum, Reijlander is now regarded by some as ‘The Father of Art Photography’. Partly this is due to his mastering of combination printing.
The image to the left, must be an example of combination printing, as Reijlander appears as himself in the photo in two separate places, in two separate guises, at the same time. The most famous example of combination printing by Reijland was mentioned earlier in the post, The Two Ways of Life. It was created from 30 different negatives, and seen as highly controversial at the time for it’s inclusion of several nude figures.
I’m still gaining insight into the origins of photography as medium so it’s really interesting to find these examples of early photographers work and see how people consider their work today. That’s where I’ll leave my research for now.