THE author believes that art in America cannot make its way to the people without a medium that will educate. Illustration has done its part. It is a popular art and a popular language, and its influence continues.
Painting cannot become a vital feature in our country for a long time, owing to the absence of tradition and the comparatively slight opportunity afforded the majority for seeing the work of strong painters. Nor could the product of the talented few be other than limited in its influence even though it were to become far more accessible, for we must not lose sight of the truth that merely seeing or possessing pictures does not disclose the secret of their construction or necessarily impart to us wholesome impulses and deeper insight. Our limitations continue until we try to produce a creative work, and in the effort we gradually learn the pictorial language.
What is needed is an art so simple and in its first stages so nearly a mechanical operation that all may practise it.
Photography has touched the life of every one. It has supplanted to a large extent the use of the pencil and the brush, as it overcomes the average person's inability to draw with accuracy the objects before him. The exact and forceful lens of the camera renders nature sufficiently well to hold the interest and gratify the scientific wish for a clear reproduction. To this extent photography is a convenience, but as yet it is a tool almost uninfluenced by the mind of the operator. The processes inherited from Daguerre remain practically unchanged to-day. Their results are known popularly as "good straight photography," and as now practised they are singularly unsuited to artistic work and wholly impossible for the expression of pictorial thought.
Enslaved by commercialism, this plain photography has run into a lifeless groove. It has established a realism tending to preclude that nourishment and refreshing mental influence found in suggestion and in the creative powers resulting in beauty. Its direct result has been to instill in the public a taste for literalism chilling in its effect upon every form of art.
Art in photography is possible only in an extension of the methods known and in the employment of new processes to effect a manipulation of the photo-image. When the tool is made so pliable that it records more than the surface appearance of things, when the personal element enters to give life to the accurate records, the present limitations of impersonal representation are removed from photography, and its large true sphere of influence opens. Not the subject merely, but the quality attained in the treatment of the subject, will become our chief source of delight.
Several methods are used at the present time to modify the lens record. In some instances the printing paper is worked upon in such a manner as to leave undeveloped the less desirable definitions of form contained in the negative. A certain resemblance to creative work results, and much beauty has often been attained, but "picture unity" and "picture expression" have rarely been reached. Certain other factors are required to produce them. If creative work is to enter into photography, it must be possible to make on the negative a line of any character and to control the light and shade with the facility of one who paints.
The illustrations of this book show that those powerful resources of the graphic arts, light lines and dark lines, lines having sharpness and lines having soft margins, can be made on the negative as readily as on paper or canvas. The new processes involved are especially rich in the control of the light and shade effects. Thus fitted out, photography becomes a medium to be taken seriously in art educational work.
Suddenly a great change is wrought in the very aim of the profession. Whereas by plain photography the operator's attention was directed to the head and figure of the person portrayed and the background was a haphazard and illogical factor, the new photography aims to establish the right relation of the background to the figure, in order that the likeness may be raised into portraiture through a completeness of pictorial expression.
The photographer's sole reliance upon "lighting" accounts for the peculiar and fatal limitations of plain photography. Lighting exists to give roundness to the forms of head and body. In painting we speak of it as "modelling.' It is not an element of construction as arrangement is, it only makes more effective the well placed parts; but before it is considered other points must be thoroughly understood. The art-aspirant in photography is destined to meet the same difficulties that would confront him in painting. When he holds in his hand a negative, he will be puzzled to know what to do with the background or how to modify the figure. A few principles will help him to think pictorially, - for art is not structureless, — and he will arrive at an understanding of what constitutes the difference between nature and art, how beauty is to be secured, and what factors combine to regulate expression. He can then indulge his love for invention by manipulating the photographic plate and creating beauty through the study and practice of composition.
In the following treatise the author offers an explanation of the principles and processes that will remove photography from its limited conventionalities and place it among the free arts. Released from its bonds of custom, it may advance continually into new realms and become to the people an "art" in its true and vital sense. We shall then have attained that wholesome condition where there will be intelligent intercourse upon all art matters.
This preface would not be complete without an expression of gratitude to Mr. J. M. Appleton, for his most valuable assistance in the development of the processes and for his kindness in granting me the use of his New York studio where the photo-plates contained in this book were made.
I also take pleasure in publicly acknowledging the encouragement afforded me by the endorsement of my manuscript by the Photographers' Association of America at its annual convention at Buffalo, and by a similar endorsement on the part of the Associations of New England and Ohio and Michigan.