Every now and then, it helps to re-discover the past.

As fun as it is to look at all the wonderful photography that is currently being produced, sometimes we can use a look at the past to give us perspective. Most photographers are familiar with HCB, Capa, Winogrand, Nachtwey, and other pioneers. They were/are ground breakers in their respective styles and genres.

However, if we go back further, we can see impressive, groundbreaking work by earlier pioneers who not only developed new styles of photography, but also new techniques of shooting, processing, and printing of images. This group of photographers also pushed photography into the category of art. Previously, photography was used to document events and record portraits, but was never truly considered an art form. To some in the art world, photography was considered a parlor trick using light and chemistry.

At the turn of the last century Alfred Stieglitz, a photographer, writer, and publisher, started a movement among fellow photographers called Photo-Secession. (In a nutshell, Photo-Secession looked photography as more than just capturing the likeness of a person, scene, or event, but as a creation of the photographer which may include manipulation of the image to realize his/her vision.) A photo magazine called Camera Work (1903 – 1917) was published to show their work. Some of the photographers whose work appeared in the magazine were Eduard Steichen, Gertrude Kasebier, Clarence White, and many others.

You have to remember, in 1903, you didn’t have a corner drugstore that could process you film. You had to do it all yourself. Film didn’t come in rolls, it was made in sheets. Whenever you decided to hit your shutter release, you have to be sure that everything was right, because processing and printing that photo was a commitment of time and money.

Camera Work magazine is now a collector’s item and an intact issue can run several thousands of dollars. But, luckily, all the images from the magazine are available in a book that is still in print.

Photo by Ken Rieves

Alfred Stieglitz – Camera Work, published by Taschen

If you get a chance, pick up a copy of this book, it will be a welcome addition to your library and be a great source of inspiration. It’s available from the publisher here and also from Amazon here.

Sometimes the clearest view of the future comes after studying the past. Thanks for reading!