Category Archives: history


High-contrast Pictorialism

Anne W. Brigman, The Heart of the Storm
Negative 1902. Print 1914
Gelatin silver, toned or gelatin silver bromide
Anne W. Brigman, The Heart of the Storm
Negative 1906.
Gelatin silver glass interpositive ca. 1940, reworked from earlier negative

So the same day that my post on Inspiration Points published here, the George Eastman house tumbler published a very different version of the Anne Brigman print which caught my eye at Oakland.

The Brigman print I saw in Oakland was very close to the print at the Getty. Extremely low contrast. Everything you’d want from something Pictorialist. Seeing a high-contrast 1940 print of the same image is interesting…and offputting.

And kind of comforting. With the focus on technical mastery and using all the contrast and tonal range available and trying to get things as sharp as possible, it’s nice to be reminded that those tools aren’t the only ones available to photographers. I’ve never been a huge pictorialist fan but yeah, I much much much prefer the subtlety of the older print.

Update: I did some digging around at the George Eastman House to see if there was any additonal information about these. It’s nice that they have a record of the early image and the later one. Even better, the later record states that, “Brigman reworked her earlier negatives as late as the 1940s.” So this isn’t the case of a rogue printer updating old work to current fashions. The artist herself decided to revise her previous work.


Bons baisers des colonies

Ici, les femmes n’ont pas de nom, elles ne sont que des «types». Le corps est une marchandise comme une autre, soumise à une exigence d’exotisme.

[Here, women do not have names, they are only “types.” The body is a commodity like any other, subject to the requirement of exoticism.]

Safia Belmenouar

Sure enough, colonial postcards were often a kind of soft core porn.

John Edwin Mason




An exhibition of colonial postcards. It’s a shame more of these aren’t online (the featured image seems to change though) but even the three I’ve seen posted serve to remind us of the kind of baggage that comes with the colonial gaze.

It’s very clear what kind of appeal is being sold here. And what it means to be “exotic” and female. And why images of a mixed-race future when centered around whiteness makes a lot of non-white people uncomfortable. And why appropriation of native clothing for fashion photoshoots or sexy photoshoots perpetuates more than just the male gaze.

Édouard Manet, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe.

Le déjeuner sur l’herbe

Édouard Manet, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe.
Édouard Manet, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe.


Édouard Manet, Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, 1862 Things to think about when studying:

  • Why was this painting so offensive to the public?
  • What historical works does Manet draw inspiration from?
  • How does the lighting of the scene show influence from the beginnings of photography?

Cave to Canvas has done an AP Art History study guide the past couple years. I always keep an eye out for photography stuff because I’m curious how it fits in the canon* and how much it’s kept distinct from everything else. So imagine my happiness when I saw the last question for  Le déjeuner sur l’herbe.

*My reaction to last year’s study guide in many ways created my mission statement for Hairy Beast.

In this case, we’re looking at studio lighting with its unrealistic look and lack of shadow. That this piece was so scandalous at the time* in part because of the unrealistic photographic lighting lays out a lot of the battles photography has had to fight to be accepted as art—and a lot of the battles within photography itself.

*In many ways this is the first modern artwork in that it’s about the artist’s vision to do whatever the fuck he wants. As much as I’m a Duchamp fanboy, yeah, Manet was freaking people out a half century before Duchamp came on the scene.

War From Above

Beginning with the American Civil War and moving forward to the present it is possible to find someone who announces that __________ war is “the most visual/photographed war” of all time. And for the most part they would be correct, at least for the time at which they were writing…


::swoon:: for historicity.

Also, this is a good example of my parting shot at Rebecca Sharplin-Hughes’s Greenham Common series.

The People of India | Image on Paper

From Volume I “Mishimi Hill Tribe, Assam”
From Volume I “Mishimi Hill Tribe, Assam”

At its worst the classification system sought to announce a theory of racial types. Certain groups were categorized as criminal tribes or castes.

At its best, the project was a formative compendium of ethnographic detail completed by sympathetic and intelligent observers who sought to understand the cultures they were living among.

via The People of India | Image on Paper.

Not ethnic mixing but a timely reminder of how the colonial viewpoint and racial-type photography and the documentation of otherness, no matter how well-intentioned, is problematic and often ends up saying more about the photographer than the cultures depicted.