To understand the idea of Pictorialism, one must first understand the context of the term's development and some of the influential photographers who pioneered it. In this instance the example of Baron Adolph de Meyer will be used; Vogue's first staff photographer who was taken on by the publication in 1913. The introduction of the photographer to the magazine has been described as revolutionary to the world of fashion photography. De Meyer’s creative practice was taking place in a period in which society was caught up in the sensibility and rational nature of the second industrial revolution, a period which saw rapid advances in the age of manufacturing. De Meyer’s work was perhaps so popular and well received as it opposed this logic nature by investigating the emotional and expressive nature of art and photography. His work created aesthetic feeling which gave fashion a more alluring and desirable nature.
The nature of De Meyer’s work was adapted mostly from the aesthetic movement of ‘pictorialism’, a style which many consider De Meyer to be a pioneer of. The style refers to the action of creating an image rather than recording a moment in time. These images were constructed by a means of creating an emotive response from their audiences. Some elements of De Meyer’s work which are highly demonstrative of a pictorialist’s methods are his experiments with light to create emotion through tone and light gradients. He experimented with methods such as backlighting, floodlights, reflectors and mirrors, all of which were new and became revolutionary to the fashion photography scene. All these components of De Meyer’s photographs created an emotional and aesthetically pleasing nature which greatly juxtaposed the awkward and rigid nature of fashion photography before the advancements of De Meyer.
Academic Source: De Meyer at Vogue: Commercializing Queer Affect in First World War-era Fashion Photography. Elspeth H. Brown
What is Pictorialism?
Adolph De Meyer, Dolores Modeling, 1921, Photo-Gelatin Silver, accessed February 27, 2018, www.icp.org.