Photo History

Across the Water; Across the Sea ….

Heinrich Khün 1866-1944

The Austrian photographer Heinrich Khün, though trained for a career in medicine, made his passion for photography into his life’s work. He joined the Vienna Camera Club in 1912, and was a founder of the Austro-German school of photography. He was an ardent experimenter with the gum-bichromate technique which placed him firmly in the pictorialist school of thought and it was a natural progression for him to become a member of The Linked Ring Brotherhood which was based in England. The pictorialist approach was one where form and composition took precedence over detail. His work was widely reproduced including the influential magazine Camera Work. Khün was also an early advocate of colour photography and many examples of his autochromes have survived.
Cicillian Brig

These two views, Cicillian Brig 1900 and Auslaufendes Boot 1898 show the potential of the photogravure printing process that was favoured by many art-photographers from this period. The Cicillian Brig is a classic pictorialist approach to the subject with its grainy treatment of the sky and landscape and with the strongly contrasting tones of the sails and vessel. The beautiful liquidity of the water surface makes this a very striking image. The second photo also majors on the textures of the water. The high horizon and the heavily cropped sail fixes the composition with controlled deliberateness.



Henry E. Davis

Henry E Davis was another early member of The Linked Ring. This was an association of photographers that flourished in Britain between 1892 and 1909 and the group formed as a reaction against the technical and scientific focus of the leading photographers of the day. With their artistic approach they were the major influence on pictorialism in photography. The aim of the brotherhood was to ‘bring together those who are interested in the development of the highest form of art of which photography is capable’.

Coal Tiers

The picture ‘Coal Tiers’, by Henry E Davis is another photogravure. The process allows the transfer of a photo image onto a copper plate which is then acid-etched to produce a printing plate not unlike those used to produce art etchings. Because gravure prints are not as sharp as actual photographs, many photographers preferred the gravure process with its softened image and delicate tonal scale that was possible with this process. The qualities of photogravure are demonstrated to perfection in this view of vessels old and new, on the Thames. The dark tonal masses of the sailing ships and coal barges are set against the softer silhouette of the steamer and sky. Subtle diagonals as well as obvious verticals help to knit this composition together. Davis has boldly cropped the top of the masts to make an original picture.


Frank Meadow Sutcliffe 1853-1941

Sutcliffe was active in photography from 1870, working in Yorkshire; mainly in the Whitby area. Professionally he was a portrait photographer. He wrote extensively about photography and was a founding member of The Linked Ring. He was the first member of the Camera Club to hold a one-man show in 1888. He is widely known for his landscapes and genre prints of farmers, fishermen and their families. His work shows the influence of PH Emerson and the early French realist painters.


This picture, ‘Fog’, also a photogravure, shows a typical compositional device favoured by Sutcliffe; that of selecting a viewpoint that places the subject matter parallel to the picture frame.Here the fog has closed down the depth of the scene and concentrates our attention on the rhythms of the masts and the texture of the water. The slight diagonal of the departing boat on the left is echoed be the angle of the mast on the right, as does the ghostly roof line at left, with the angle of the sail at right. These elements bring unity to the composition.

Both photogravure and the gum-bichromate technique are still used today by a small number of photographers, keen to exploit their qualities in art photography.

Post dated 28 January 2014

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