Group of mainly American Pictorialist photographers founded by alfred Stieglitz in New York in 1902, with the aim of advancing photography as a fine art. Stieglitz, who chose the organization’s name partly to reflect the Modernism of European artistic Secession movements, remained its guiding spirit. Other leading members included Alvin Langdon Coburn, Gertrude Käsebier, Edward Steichen and Clarence H. White. The Secession also exhibited and published work by Europeans, for example Robert Demachy, Frederick H. Evans, Heinrich Kühn and Baron Adolf de Meyer, who shared the Americans’ attitude that photography was a valid medium of artistic expression (see Pictorial Photography).
All participants placed great emphasis on fine photographic printing. Their gum bichromate or platinum prints often emulated paint, pastel or other media, particularly in their use of soft focus, emphasis on composition and texture, and adoption of traditional academic subject-matter; in addition graphic signatures or monograms were often used. The Secession’s shifting aesthetic concerns are well documented in the elegant magazine Camera Work, which Stieglitz edited (1903–17). From 1905 exhibitions were held regularly in New York at The Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, 291 Fifth Avenue, later known as 291. In order to define photography’s position among the arts, it was felt appropriate to exhibit contemporary American and European non-photographic works, and from 1908 there were more exhibitions of paintings than of photographs. After the Secession’s last major photographic exhibition in 1910 at the Albright Art Gallery (now Albright–Knox Gallery) in Buffalo, NY, many disaffected Pictorialist photographers left the group, and it disbanded unofficially, although 291 remained open until 1917.
Barbara L. Michaels
From Grove Art Online
© 2009 Oxford University Press