Thursday, 29 January 2015

Part II: Photography Through The Years at the V&A

This is Part II of my feature on the temporary photography display at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) which ran from January 2014 until 17 January 2015. If you have missed Part I, please click HERE.

As with Part I, please excuse the reflection of the overhead lighting and my own reflection on the glass-framed photographs.

The early 20th century saw the standardisation and simplification of photography processes that allowed the craft to be accessed by the mass audience. The more adept ones chose an impressionistic style imitating paintings. Such 'Pictorialist' photographers promoted the cause of photography as a fine art rather than a mechanised medium.

The White Friars by James Craig Annan, Photogravure, 1894

Scottish photographer Annan was one of the first to use the Kodak snapshot camera. He was a member of the Linked Ring Brotherhood, a society founded in 1892 to defend photography's status amongst the arts. They mastered chemical processes and printing techniques. The above photo of Venetian monks exhibits Annan's talent for capturing movement and his talent as a printer.

Heavy Rose, Voulangis, France by Edward Steichen, Photogravure, 1914 but printed in 1981

This is probably the last photo taken by Steichen in France before the outbreak of the First World War. Steichen was aspiring to be a painter when this photograph was taken, thus the painting-like quality. The image of sensual blooms slowly withering can be viewed as a metaphor for the ensuing tragedy.


The period between the two World Wars turned photography into a fitting tool for recording the dynamic streets and dizzying heights of the expanding city. Some avant-garde photographers combined extreme vantage points of high and low that created an abstract interpretation. Others combined photographic imagery with typography or used camera-less techniques to create visuals beyond which the naked eye can see.

Fashion photography, portraiture, and documentary photography flourished during this period.

Abstract Composition by Curtis Moffatt, gelatin silver print, about 1925

Moffatt created abstract photograms or 'Rayographs' in collaboration with the artist Man Ray in Paris.  Rayographs were made in the dark room by placing objects directly on photographic paper to make the exposure. What makes photograms unique is that no camera or film is involved. 

Paris by Marianne Breslauer, gelatin silver prints, 1929

Breslauer also trained with Man Ray, and like Ilse Bing, used the Leica to take street photographs from unexpected vantage points. Shot from above, the compositions capture the hustle and bustle of a sunny Parisian street.

Akt Positiv, Akt Negativ by László Moholy-Nagy, gelatin silver prints, 1931 but printed in 1970

Moholy-Nagy saw photography as the art form of the future and was fascinated by the ways technology could enhance artistic practice. A painter, designer, film-maker, and theorist, he explored the positive and negative elements of photography and its mechanical capabilities. From this, he created photograms and photomontages inspired by his interest in the combination of light, space, and time.

Paris, Rue de Valois by Ilse Bing, gelatin silver print, 1932 but printed in 1988

Bing was one of the first to adopt the Leica, the new 35-mm hand-held camera that enabled photographers to capture fast-moving events. Her style were cropped compositions, quirky angles, and aerial views that often fused old and new elements of Paris in a single frame.

Salzburg by Wolfgang Suschitzky, gelatin silver print, 1932

Suschitzky was a freelance photojournalist who shot documentary stories for magazines such as Illustrated and Picture Post. The above was taken during an outing with the Viennese photography school he attended. He later worked as a cinematographer on films including Get Carter which starred Michael Caine.

After World War II, photography was viewed not only for documentation purposes but also for invidual expression or to communicate a personal vision. Magazines and fashion houses hosted these expressions. Photography also began to be used in the service of conceptual art.

Givenchy Hat, Paris by Frank Horvat, gelatin silver print, 1958

Horvat studied art in Milan, and decided to pursue photojournalism after meeting Henri Cartier-Besson. He brought a fresh reportage approach to fashion imagery, shooting on a 35mm camera using available light. The above photo was shot at the Longchamp racecourse in Paris, for the fashion magazine Jardin des Modes.

Marilyn Monroe, Beverly Hills by Arnold Newman, gelatin silver print, 1962

Newman is best known for his studies of politicians and artists for LIFE magazine. This portrait of Monroe, deep in conversation with the poet and biographer Carl Sandburg, was taken at the home of Hollywood producer Henry Weinstein, seven months before her untimely death. The photograph has a grainy quality because it was printed from a small portion of a negative.

The photographs are now back in the Prints and Drawings Study Room of the V&A where you will find other objects of interest.

Hope you picked up some notes about the beginnings of photography. Pop in to the V&A when you are in London. Most exhibits are free!

Victoria and Albert Museum
Cromwell Road


  1. These are fantasitc doll, love seeing stuff like this. Never been to this museum, so this is new for me :) I hope you are keeping warm, it has been snowing here all day so far!! Xxx

    1. I hope you can come down to London one day and visit the V&A. You'll enjoy the fashion bit. Have a lovely weekend x

  2. The V&A museum is one of my favourites, along with the Tate. Always marvellous exhibitions to see! It's amazing how much history photographs carry, and how far technology has gone since the beginnings. <3 Wish you a lovely weekend Marj!
    Style Files Foodie Inspired

    1. Ah....Tate...where I met Mr Tittle-Tattles. Hah! Getting more into photography, but will stop right where too much photoshopping happens. You have a lovely weekend, too! x

  3. It is so interesting to learn the history of things especially photography! It is neat to see how it all began and the many uses! The photos are not only beautiful but educational!


    1. Thank you for dropping by Rebecca! Your comments are much appreciated. I'll come round to yours one of these days. Have a lovely weekend :)

  4. Great to see a photo taken by Luxembourg-born photographer Edward Steichen in your post!

    1. I didn't even know he's Luxembourg-born! Thank you for the info :)

  5. Awesome work.Just wanted to drop a comment and say I am new to your blog and really like what I am reading.Thanks for the share

    1. Comments such as yours make my heart sing. Thank you! Please come again.

  6. I haven't been able to keep up with my own blog over the past couple of weeks let alone reading other blogs, so apologies! I have heard some very complimentary reports about this museum but never visited myself. You'd be a good person to go with and I'm sure I'd be enthused by the fashion side. I guess most people who pick up their DSLRs wouldn't think about the history of photography. Anyway, hope you're having a good weekend xx

    1. I'd be happy to take you there! :) The fashion side is always interesting. Always. So, let's go! xx

  7. I enjoyed your post with such beautiful photos!
    Through the years photograpy has become more and more popular... of course it is not always of a high quality...


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