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In May of 1928, the Premier salon indépendant de la photographie opened to the public. This exhibition, better known as the Salon de l'Escalier, was the first occasion at which modern photography was critically recognized in France. French art critic and publisher Florent Fels (1893-1977) organized the show because of his dissatisfaction with the annual salon of photography, the Salon International d'art photographique de Paris, and its support of pictorialism. In this thesis, I expand upon current scholarship on these exhibitions by comparing the 1927 and 1928 writings of Fels and Pierre Mac Orlan with those of Luc Benoist and René Chavance. The former writers are both generally associated with modern photography while the latter authors introduced the annual salon catalogues of 1927 and 1928, respectively, and are thus connected with pictorialism. Through this comparison I discovered that, though traditionally set at odds with one another because of the exhibitions with which they are associated, these critics were nevertheless uniformly interested in steering photography away from pictorialism and advocating a new conception of the medium. To illustrate this, I consider those aspects of the style with which each critic took issue and what they offered as alternatives. I have organized this thesis into three chapters. Chapter one addresses the terms by which these authors rejected pictorialism. In chapter two, I introduce what these critics suggested as alternatives to pictorialism—the photograph as document and snapshot—to delineate their conceptions of what modern photography should become. In chapter three, I discuss Fels' and Mac Orlan's conception of photography as poetry, which provided a way to distinguish the medium not only from the photography that came before but also from all other media. Pictorialists strove to distance photography from its mechanical or scientific nature to show that the medium was an art. In contrast, the critics Fels, Mac Orlan, Benoist, and Chavance argued that photography could and should be both a mechanical medium and a conduit of subjective expression. My analysis of their primary documents illustrates that two groups of critics that have been assumed were opposed, in fact, had much in common. This not only shows that this period, considered crucial in the history of French photography, cannot be reduced to a simple series of events but that other transitional moments in the history of photography deserve closer scrutiny.
Photography, Pierre Mac Orlan, Florent Fels, Salon International d'art photographique de Paris Premier salon indépendant de la photographie, Pictorialism, Modern photography, French art criticism, Luc Benoist, René Chavance
Date of Defense
March 31, 2011.
A Thesis submitted to the Department of Art History in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts.
Includes bibliographical references.
Adam Jolles, Professor Directing Thesis; Karen Bearor, Committee Member; Lauren Weingarden, Committee Member.
Florida State University
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