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Wiener Photographische BlätterThe Photographic Society of Vienna was the "oldest organization of its kind" in the German-speaking world being "founded in 1861 by the Friends of Daquerreotypy, who met in 1840 at the home of Karl Schuh in Vienna. The founders were representatives of professional photography and men of science and art" (Eder 1945:681). Eder continues:
Herausgegeben Vom Camera-Club In Wien
"Regular meetings provided contact between the members of the circle, who kept themselves informed in this manner about the progress of photography at home and abroad. Small exhibitions and a Wanderalbum (circulating portfolio), which was also sent to the provinces, propagated interest in photography in wider circles." (1945:681)
Vienna during the late 19th century was a center of cultural activity and open to new scientific ideas that were embraced by amateur societies of the high minded and photography was no different. Just as London and Paris had active societies so did Vienna where the "Club der Amateur Photographen in Wien" ("Club of Vienna Amateur Photographers"), later called the "Vienna Camera Club" held sway. It was founded on March 31, 1887 largely through the efforts of Carl Srna, Dr. Federico Mallmann, and Charles Scolik (Hübscher 2006).
Hübscher explains the context: "Indeed, and perhaps paradoxically, imperial Vienna, already in political decline owing to the failures of liberalism and the rise of nationalism, had become the symbol of a rich and diverse center for literature, music, other arts, and the sciences, a phenomenon that was often encouraged by the authorities." (2006:125). This was the turbulent setting in which Austrian pictorialism developed and the International Exhibition of Photography held in Vienna in 1891 was a catalyst that encouraged the amateurs.
The "Club der Amateur Photographen in Wien" was renamed in 1893 and became the "Wiener Camera Club" (Vienna Camera Club) with 277 members (Hübscher 2006:126). What became known as the "Viennese model" influenced the formation of other societies around the world - most notably The Linked Ring Brotherhood in England which was founded in 1892.
The amateur photography clubs of the 1890s were highly international and the "Wiener Camera Club" had members from around the world and the highly inter-connected nature of the clubs tends to be overlooked but it is highly significant. The groundwork for this had been laid down 50 years earlier with the "Wanderalbum" - which would have included artistically engraved views of famous German landmarks from actual daguerreotypes and the idea to publish a lavishly produced artistic photographic journal is a natural progression from this. There was also a desire to set an example as Hübscher (2006:126) has said:
"The Wiener Camera-Klub was also intent upon establishing itself as the leader of a growing movement in Eastern Europe. To this end, it provided a showcase for its work by issuing a magazine entitled the Wiener Photographische Blätter."
Loosely translated the German "Blätter" means "bound sheets", as in bound sheets of paper. This publication served two purposes the first was for internal communication with the Club and the second was to disseminate the ideas internationally. The publication was short-lived lasting only for the five years 1894-1898 being supported by wealthy members who desired the finest quality artistic reproductions within an integrated publication.
In the artistic photography of the late 1890s and through into the twentieth century it is impossible to ignore the role of played by Alfred Stieglitz but the cultural context can easily be overlooked. The "Wiener Photographische Blätter" had a significant influence upon Stieglitz who was about thirty when the first issue was published. In his book 1978 book "The Collection of Alfred Stieglitz: Fifty pioneers of Modern Photography" Weston Naef provides a context:
"In January the first issue of the Wiener Photographische Blätter appeared, edited by F. Schiffner and published by the Camera-Klub in Wien with seventeen original photogravures by Hugo Henneberg, Hans Watzek, F. Mallman, J. S. Bergheim, and Adolph Meyer. Each gravure was printed with an ink of a different tone, and some like Meyer‘s were mounted on colored paper, making this among the most carefully produced photography periodicals published anywhere in the world." (Naef 1978:30)
The exact numbers in the different issues requires further clarification but in the example used in this exhibition first bound issue for the year contains a total of 21 photogravures including 16 chine-colle photogravures most heliographed and printed by the Viennese copperplate engraver J. Blechinger. Each monthly issue typically featured two fine photogravures.
The quality of the production was something that Stieglitz aspired to and appreciated and as the "Wiener Photographische Blätter" continued he contributed examples of his own images.
- 1896 (August) "Wet Day on the Boulevard" (Ein nasser Tag)
- 1896 (October) "Waiting for the Return" (In Erwartung der Heimkehr)
- 1897 (January) "Winter, Fifth Avenue"
- 1898 (May) "The Net Mender" (Netz - Flickerin) - his personal favorite.
For it‘s short run of only five years, the journal became the model for serious publications on artistic photography in Europe and later in America. It had a profound influence upon Stieglitz who continued the themes in New York Camera Club‘s Camera Notes which he edited (1897-1903) and later in Camera Work (1903-1917).
Eder, Josef Maria (1945) History of Photography (Columbia University Press)
Hübscher, Manon (2006) "The Vienna Camera Club: Catalyst and Crucible" IN: Impressionist Camera: Pictorial Photography in Europe, 1888-1918 (2006: Merrell Publishers Limited in Association with the Saint Louis Art Museum)
Naef, Weston (1978) The Collection of Alfred Stieglitz: Fifty pioneers of Modern Photography (The Metropolitan Museum of Art/The Viking Press)
© D. Spencer (2006) - Used with permission