Art Will Take Care of Itself

“I don’t care about making photography an art. I want to make good photographs. I’d like to know who first got it into his head that dreaminess and mist is an art. Take things as they are; take good photographs and the art will take care of itself.”

Edward Steichen

(1923)

 

Portrait of a Young Man (Self-Portrait), Edward Steichen, 1905

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The Most Complicated Thing On Earth

“When I first became interested in photography… my idea was to have it recognized as one of the fine arts. Today I don’t give a hoot in hell about that. The mission of photography is to explain man to man and each man to himself. And that is the most complicated thing on earth and also as naïve as a tender plant.”

Edward Steichen

 

Experiment in Three Color Photography, by Edward Steichen. Camera Work No 15, 1906

Exposed to The Light

The Age of Bronze, Eugène Druet, Circa 1898

 

Serendipity can sometimes play a major role in artistic creation. Such was the case in this photograph of The Age of Bronze , taken by Eugène Druet in 1898.

One day, the photographer came across an effect now known as “solarization”. If a chlorobromide paper is exposed to the light while it is being developed in the darkroom (which may happen when the door is inadvertently opened), parts of the image will come out negative. As a result of this effect, The Age of Bronze seems to be weightless here. Druet, encouraged by Rodin, adopted and attempted to master the process by producing a dozen or so variations, each one with a different degree of solarization.

In the 20th century, solarization would be used as a technique and a means of photographic expression by artists such as Man Ray,Edward Steichen and Maurice Tabard.

To Quash False Accusations

L’Âge d’Airain, Auguste Rodin, modeled 1876

 

“I have unbounded admiration for the nude. I worship it,” Auguste Rodin used to say. He sought out models with strong, vigorous bodies, whether they were professional or not. Auguste Neyt, a muscular telegraphist, who remained friends with the sculptor after posing for The Age of Bronze, was an amateur. At the time, Rodin was struggling to be recognized as an artist in his own right and was working relentlessly to produce a great piece of sculpture.

Shown at the Salon des Artistes Belges, in Brussels, in 1877, the statue met with unanimous acclaim, although one art critic suspected Rodin of having used a life cast to make it. This charge benefited Rodin though, because people were so eager to see this for themselves.

 

Photograph by Gaudenzio Marconi

 

Nevertheless, to quash this accusation, a few months later, Rodin turned for help to Gaudenzio Marconi, a prolific photographer of nudes. Intending to present the work again, this time at the Salon des Artistes Français, Paris, he commissioned Marconi to take photographs, from the front and back, of August Neyt naked, in the pose of The Age of Bronze . These efforts were, however, all in vain. The jury never even looked at the photographs.

Critics of the period were also dismayed by the subject, for Rodin not only abandoned all of the elaborate repertory of symbols with which academic sculptors habitually equipped their works, but also had stripped the figure of the spear originally carried in his left hand, relying on the expressiveness of the figure itself to convey its meaning. In addition, he changed the title from The Vanquished (Le Vaincu), possibly an allusion to the suffering and demoralization of his countrymen during the Franco-Prussian War, to the classical, but more ambiguous, The Age of Bronze (L’Âge d’Airain). Later the work acquired still other new titles, by instance, Man Awakening to Nature. The Metropolitan Museum has retained the title by which the bronze was known at the time of its purchase from Rodin.