Alfred H Wall, was an Honorary Member
of Edinburgh Photographic Society. He was invited to deliver a
lecture to the society on 1 July 1863.
He chose Art-Photography as his
subject. This is a subject:
- that A H Wall had written on
previously for the
British Journal of Photography
- that Edinburgh Photographic
Society returned to discuss on several occasions.
A H Wall began:
"Your energetic and
valuable Secretary, Mr J
T Taylor, having suggested that a paper by your honorary member, my
humble self , would be kindly welcomed, I hastened to secure the honour of
placing one before you.
As the claims of art
photography are now receiving attention in so many quarters, I propose
that we devote the present evening to fairly and honestly discussing the
same. Let us, in so doing, avoid prejudices, put aside feeling, and
array ourselves on this side or on that - separated perhaps in
opinion, but most harmoniously united in the desire for Truth."
A H Wall discussed several arguments that had been advanced
against photography being considered a fine art. He refuted each in
Arguments for Photography not being one of the Fine Arts
1. The want of
colour in its productions is fatal to its claim.
A H Wall
replied that this was a very weak argument. "Some of the
greatest masters' works now preserved with careful pride by the most
refined nations are without colour, having been executed in black or
brown and white only. Besides, engraving is an acknowledged
Productions are too truthful.
A H Wall
replied that this was a "fruitless controversy that had divided
artists and art-writers since earliest times" and that "the modern
school of truth-loving artists are in very wholesome and healthy
condition. of mind."
"It is , at the very least, rank heresy against Nature's beauties to
say that she is never fit to appear in good society until she has
been doctored and altered and improved by the poor skill of feeble
Photographic is not
A H Wall
accepted that "photography does not as yet render certain
qualities of natural scenery with actual truthfulness. Air,
light and space have yet to be secured in their integrity. The
all important quality called tone, although sometimes seen in the
best works of our very best photographic artists is, as a rule, also
absent from our productions."
A H Wall added:
"But the art is in its infancy, and, considering its present aspect
in connection with its present age, we must indeed be poor, sickly
desponding advocates if we are not full of strong hopes and hale,
"Has painting no disadvantages? Ask the poor enthusiast,
sitting with his palette and colours under the mighty dome of
Nature's own academy, and scramblingly striving to imitate this
glorious effect of colour, or that glorious mass of clout form ... "
these mighty difficulties the painter's and the sculptor's arts are
not degraded from their high estate. Such defects, it is well
known, are overcome by the talent and experience of artists in both
branches. And photography's defects are also overcome by the
talents and experience of photographers ..." A H Wall praised
the work of H P
Robinson (Bringing Home the May) and
In contrast, A
H Wall said: "... photographers have their difficulties. and
for every one that succeeds in producing genuine artistic pictures
we have hundreds, nay thousands, who never soar above the lowest
level of mediocrity. It is the same in painting:
thousands can use brushes and colours with tolerable manipulative
skill who never yet produced a picture, and never will.
Photographic is easily learnt and so cannot be a fine art
A H Wall said:
"The absurdity of making an art dependant for its rank in public
esteem not upon its high intellectual character, not upon the
exquisite beauty of its productions, or the refining influence of
its teachings, but upon the simple fact that it took a long time to
learn it, scarcely needs refutation."
Photography cannot reject, create nor combine objects.
before the days of digital imaging.]
A H Wall said:
"I think it a very frequently a sad thing that most of our painters
are not in the same predicament." ... ...
"In the hands of a master, such power is invaluable, but it is so
only in the hands of a master, and s abused or misused in all
"waiting for that one moment in which the objectionable this or that
was toned down, lost in shadow, ... or concealed by an alteration in
the angle of view."
scientific and so cannot be fine art.
A H Wall said
that this argument was irrelevant. "It is not how I do my
work, but what my work is when it is done, that should decide its
claim to admiration and respect."
Photography is the
work of a machine, so is not fine art.
A H Wall said
others had asked "Can the work of a machine ever bear comparison
with the work of a creative processing heart and brains?".
countered this, arguing that "cameras do not of their own sweet will
and power take photographs."
"That there are men with heads nearly or quite as empty as the
camera they use is a very unfortunate fact, but wha of that?
Are there not also men who, unfit in their intellectual capacity for
the meanest mechanical work, nevertheless daub canvas or stain
paper? ... But does this prove that painting is no fine art?
A H Wall concluded by praising the
work of Rejlander,
Robinson, Lake Price,
Bedford and Wilson, adding
of Early Photographers
"Who would have
dared, in the absence of their works, to make for photography the claim
now occupying our attention? For myself, I can assert that, had I
never seen such pictures as have ben produced by the real
artist-photogaphers, I should never have ventured to use either pen or
voice in support of the art's most ambitious and honourable aspirations."
A H Wall
encouraged discussion of his paper:
"And now I will
retire from the field Gentlemen, leaving in your hands the
discussion of all I have advanced in this unpretending paper.
Those who support me - if any do so - will, I hope, be strong and
able, inasmuch as I should not like the ignominy of a fall;
and those who oppose me will, I also hope, produce stronger
arguments than those it has been my task to deal so briefly with
this evening. And so - Heaven defend the right!"
A H Wall added that since his boyish
days, he had enjoyed the work of Sir Walter Scott and had pined to visit
Scotland. He had intended to visit Edinburgh to deliver this paper
to the Edinburgh Photographic Society, but unfortunately this had not been
possible due to illness, press of business and a combination of accidents.