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Pictorialism Critique – Stieglitz


The image features a steam locomotive switching around in a freight yard on a cold winter day. In pictorialism, the image emulates paintings and the mood and atmosphere of the scene is suppose to be more important than the subject itself.  The image is warmer than a stark black and white, making the mood of the setting the main focus of the image. The negatives are often covered in home made emulsions to give the final images different qualities, and this photograph has been treated to make it appear warmer, creating a mood that would be felt despite the winter setting which would have been cold. The original negative probably had strong contrast due to the many highlights in the snow, the blackness of the engine and the tracks, and by using this style and process, it is not so apparent. Also, the image is not sharp,  making it look like a painting and accentuating the artistic composition. The subject however is a warm locomotive, and appears to be taken possibly from the window of a warm office.

Stieglitz was criticized by many for choosing subjects that were not necessarily common for the time. The use of steam locomotives was the most efficient way of transporting goods across the country. This is when became more defined as an art form. This would have been a scene that was quite common and was important for the development of industry during the industrial revolution. Stieglitz intention was probably to document in a romanticized way the golden era of steam. The air was always thick with steam and coal smoke, giving the time period its signature smoggy appearance. This is very apparent in this photograph. in a was, it is a portrait of the times and the machines that fueled the growing world. I also believe that Stieglitz wanted to capture a scene that was apparent everywhere and everyone was use to and ignored. He highlighted a place that was often overlooked and is now not in existence.

I chose this image because it has qualities about it that reflect the process of pictorialism and the industrial revolution.  While running steam locomotive in the winter sounds like a cold and strenuous job, this image gives us a true sense of how it would have felt looking out on the yards. The engine’s cab would have been nice and warm and the raised position of the shot suggests it was taken in a nearby building. This makes the feeling of the place itself come alive, making it easy to imagine watching down on the moving pieces of freight from a frosted window.

The image truly looks like a painting. This image reminded me of the paintings done by David Tutweiler. I do believe that this image is a perfect portrait of a time and place, capturing emotions of the time, which was exciting, mysterious and growing in technology.





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