Pictorial Artistry: The Dramatization of the Beautiful in Photography

Description (Brief)
Adolf Fassbender was born in Germany in 1884 and started working as a photographer’s apprentice from an early age. In 1911, he immigrated to the United States and began working with the Selby Sisters in New York before opening is own studio in 1921. By 1925, he began exhibiting his work at pictorial salons, but decided in 1927 to close his studio in order to make and teach photography full time. He taught for many years at various institutions, as well as exhibiting and publishing his own works of art. One of his most important contributions to the field of pictorialism was his book Pictorial Artistry: The Dramatization of the Beautiful in Photography, published in 1937, largely through his own funds. This book consists of 40 hand-pulled photogravure prints with descriptions in the photographer's own words regarding the subject matter, composition and equipment used to produce the image.
From Pictorial Artistry: The Dramatization of the Beautiful in Photography
"Photography, from the first efforts of Daguerre, Niepce and Talbot down to the present day, has passed through an endless succession of movements, periods, fads, and fashions. While each is new, it is “modern”… acclaimed perhaps as the ultra of photographic art forms by enthusiastic exponents, overshadowing with its advent and newness, all that has been achieved before.
But time has a way of putting all things in proper perspective. So it is that the vogue for the “new form” fades, quite likely displaced by a “newer form”. Nevertheless, whatever merit it may have had will endure to contribute some gem or modest chapter to the vast and ever-increasing store of photographic knowledge.
There is, however, one phase of photography which, because of its very recurrence and almost continual popularity through many decades, justifies its preeminent position as the truly individual and completely expressive photographic art form. This is Pictorial Photography.
Pictorial photography is more than a fad or a style. It is the expression of what we see in terms of photography… improved by the wealth and skill of our imaginative and interpretive development. The camera and the lens, as such, are only the mechanical devices… the means to the beginning of Pictorialism in photography. The resultant negative and positive print therefrom cannot in any sense be art. The lack of color and third dimensional factor and above all the incapacity of photographic material, make it practically impossible to render tone values or, in many cases, to create compositions with any justice to the way nature presents the scene to us. So it is that contrary to the popular axiom, photography very seldom tells the truth. This fact forms the basis of creative achievement for the artist in photography.
The artist uses the mechanical light-sketch as a foundation and by technical manipulation he is able to recreate and rebalance the values of light and shade until by the very ingenuity of his appreciative treatment, an artistic creation results. The joy of this creative expression, so inspiring to the sincere worker in photography, is the enduring worth of Pictorial Photography.
Pictorialism in photography, as we enjoy it today, is different. It has to be. The dreamy diffusion period has passed. In the midst of modernism, angles and distortions I felt the surge of a dynamic force calling for expression… dramatically… beautifully! It awakened in me the desire to pursue, capture, and perfectly interpret and express all the magnificence abounding in life and nature.
To define in broad terms the characteristics of my work in Pictorial Photography is difficult for me to do. Each print is to me an individual creation… its inspiration, conception and artistic development having but one objective… “THE DRAMATIZATION OF THE BEAUTIFUL”.
A great number of my fellow workers are also finding the satisfaction of expression and achievement through Pictorial Photography, their work at its best gracing national and international exhibitions everywhere, including the Pictorial Form. I am gratified that I have been able to help revive and perpetuate this truly artistic form of photography."
by Adolf Fassbender, F.R.P.S., 1937
Currently not on view
date made
Fassbender, Adolf
place made
United States: New York, New York
Physical Description
paper (overall material)
metal (binding material)
overall: 16 in x 13 3/4 in x 1 1/4 in; 40.64 cm x 34.925 cm x 3.175 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
See more items in
Culture and the Arts: Photographic History
Adolf Fassbender, Pictorial Artistry
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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