Pictorialism enters Sweden

Par Rittsel 

Pictorialism was an artistic counter-movement against both the esthetic decline in professional photography, and the emerging "You press the button we do the rest"-amateur photography. In order to get photography recognised as an Art, it had to be liberated from the mechanical, impersonal reproduction. The means for this were found in a succession of manual methods known as gum, oil and bromoil printing.

Amateur photographers played an importat role in this movement - also in Sweden where artistic amateurs introduced the gum bichromate process in 1897. Photographic Journals published frequent reports from the international photography salons in Europe, and in 1899 a number of photographers from the international élite showed their prints in Stockholm. The images were published in two thin volumes, "Fotografiska studiehäften" and at least some prints remained in the possession of the Swedish Photographer's Association and can now be found in the collections of the Museum of Photography in Stockholm.

Herman Hamnqvist was a professional photographer, who acted as a propagator for the Pictorialist cause at the turn of the century: He encouraged his colleagues to "Clear the studios from the old junk, get rid of those ugly palace backgrounds, that strange furniture, all those universal props without any likeness to reality ..." His own studio portraits were, accordingly, gum prints made in a soft, natural northern daylight and set against a neutral, dark grey bakground.

He was an eager spokesman (in the Swedish Photographic Journal) for the new ideas, but he never allowed any exaggerations. When he encountered the Secessionist painters in the exhibition in Dresden 1909, he balked: "Is modern German art equal to pure madness? One must assume, that these artists either are abnormal or dishonest, because only abnormity or a strive for sensation could be the incentive for their so-called artistic activities." He found the same, frightening trends among the photographers, especially in the numerous prints by Hugo Erfurth. Only the original "impressionists" Steichen, Coburn, Demachy and Stiegliz pleased him. The new Expressionism made him withdraw from further artistic activities. He continued to write another ten years, but only about technical issues.

Hamnqvist was the first in a line of photographers who were at the same time theorists, lecturers and writers, and as such he typified Pictorialism. He was followed by Henry B Goodwin and Ture Sellman.

 A portrait from 1903 by Hamnqvist. A soft light, a neutral background and no props were the ideals he preached and used.

August Strindberg in Hamnqvist's studio.

Ferdinand Flodin working on a bromoil print.