Painting has always had a major influence on photography and none less so than those romantic views of the English landscape. In painting the approach was a revolt against the academic in art and was the antithesis of the industrial age that was spreading across the world from the late 17th century onwards. It often gave us an idealised view of life because it’s primary aim was pictorialism. In Victorian times there are many example of artists working in this style and Samuel Palmer is one of my favourites.
An 1881 painting by Benjamin Williams Leader, February Fill Dyke, epitomises the style. Most particularly it has come to typify a genre of both painting and photography that seeks to capture the relationship between water and landscape. In this view, which is an etching based on Leader’s original, we see a waterlogged landscape after heavy rain where the pools of water reflect the trees and evening sky. As photographers we know that taking pictures against the light reduces much of the landscape to dark silhouettes. The solution here takes advantage of the mirrors of standing pools to break up the scene and bring areas of light to the ground as well.
In a similar vein is this photogravure, A February Day at Barton. The photographer is E W Tattersall who’s work appears in a number of books from the late 1920s through to the 1950s.
The German romantic school has many examples of wintertime views and this next is by Romain Ickx and is called Hebstnebel. Once again it is a photogravure which , in its soft and indistinct tones, is an ideal medium for rendering photography as art.
Perhaps the most famous image of this type is the 1904 photograph by Edward Steichen of which three only are known to exist. Steichen used the complicated gum bichromate over platinum technique which renders each print slightly differently. The picture title is The Pond- Moonrise and the effect is augmented by printing ‘down’, so making it a darker and more moody image. One of the three prints was sold for a record $2.9 million in 2006 which helps to raise photography’s profile to that of fine art.
I hesitate at this point to include some of my own photographs, especially following on from Edward Steichen, but the whole intention here is to encourage creativity by looking at what the greats have done. This next was taken at Carlingwark Loch, Castle Douglas, Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland and it attempts to capture the strands of mist as they start to form in the cold of a winter’s evening.
This final picture comes closer to the spirit of the Steichen though I decided to leave the colour. In the old days I would have played around with split toning in the dark room which would have been a far more satisfying outcome, whatever it happened to look like. John Smith: Jan ’12