Modern-day Pictorialism by Dan Peknik

The Pictorialism movement of the early twentieth century was a group of artists whose goal was to transform the conventions of photography. While most photographers were capturing the realism their tool so naturally recorded, the Pictorialists where throwing their lenses out of focus with the aim of bringing a more painterly quality to the medium of photography.

To accomplish the aforementioned, such prominent photographers as Robert Demachy, Alfred Stieglitz, George Seeley, Julia Margaret Cameron, Frank Sutcliffe, Gertrude Käsebier, Peter Henry Emerson, and Ken Rosenthal would go to extremes to render their scenes as soft, and ethereal. They would apply such crude techniques as wiping Vaseline across the surface of their lens, or shooting through tissue paper. The resulting images had a glowing and out-of-focus appearance.

It seems artists’ are always seeking to buck convention in order to bring about their own ideals. Take the work from members of f/64, a group of seven 20th century San Francisco-based photographers who sought, not only a more modernist aesthetic, but also a direct contradiction the Pictorialists of the early 1900s.

If the Pictorialists were seeking to break from the traditional aim of photography, that of recording the natural and immediate world, and f/64 members sought to break away from Pictorialism and mere blurry pictures with their tack sharp-focused prints, then the work by Dan Peknik seeks to return to Pictorialism.

In a new show at the Mina Dresden Gallery, titled AStigma, Dan Peknik displays his softly-focused and back-lit, prints measuring 18-by-27 and 24-by-36 inches. Twenty images are on display, showcasing Peknik’s perfected Laser Trans artworks.

The work resembles the early work of the Pictorialists in both subject mater and aesthetic. While these early photographers were using the analog technology provided by petroleum pastes and tissue, Peknik has re-purposed and perfected the Laser Trans imaging printers typically used for subway signage.

While the work is lacking in originality, the images are beautiful in their glowing presence. It would seem Pictorialism is back, only this time, the Vasaline has been replaced by today’s most sophisticated and expensive imaging devices available. This re-installation of Pictorialism begs the question, ‘is there anything new left to discover and how soon before an f/90, f/128 or f/180 is formed?’

~ John Trefethen
Learn the art of Pictorialism


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