Saturday, August 21, 2010

Finding a New Pictorialism

I suppose I've always been attracted to the impressionistic qualities of Pictorialist photography. Although Pictorialism as a photographic movement was an effort to define photography as an art by emulating painting, I've never wanted to make a photograph that looked like a painting. However, I have always wanted to make photographs in that style of the early Pictorialists.

I tried a variety of methods over the years and was never satisfied. Many of the problems I encountered I chalked up to the superiority of today's film emulsions and the complete unavailability of many of the materials being used by photographers at he turn of the twentieth century. Much of my dissatisfaction had to to with my own impatience and my unwillingness to experiment with chemicals and wet processes which I had given up many years before.

At one point I thought Photoshop would provide the solutions I was looking for. But again I found nothing satisfactory. Recently, while experimenting with scanning medium format negatives using a flatbed scanner not equipped to properly scan film, I came upon a technique that allows me to produce exactly the look of Pictorialism I've been after.

Initially working with a color negative that is scanned using an Epson 1650, a sheet of Xerox paper and a small light box, I am able to take the resulting scan, manipulate it using a few basic Photoshop adjustments (Levels, Brightness & Contrast), convert it to black and white and invert it to a positive image. After a few slight adjustments of the positive image and a bit of toning I end up with an image I feel absolutely meets my vision of Pictorialism.

Photo: Stone Fruit and Tea Cup, ©2010 David W. Sumner