Debuting the newly renovated Hemicycle Gallery of the Buffalo AKG’s Robert and Elisabeth Wilmers Building, Through a Modernist Lens: Buffalo and the Photo-Secession will explore the museum’s historic photography collection, which traces back to 1910.
That year, what was then the Albright Art Gallery hosted the groundbreaking International Exhibition of Pictorial Photography. This was the first show organized by an American museum that aimed to elevate photography from a purely scientific pursuit to a visual form of artistic expression. Organized by the Photo-Secession, a group led by the American photographer Alfred Stieglitz, in cooperation with the museum, the exhibition introduced audiences to more than 600 photographs by sixty-five artists. Through purchase or gift, the Albright Art Gallery acquired many of the notable works from the exhibition. Today, these works reveal the ways in which pioneering photographers pushed the medium beyond its documentary function, inviting future innovation.
After Eastman Kodak Company released the first amateur camera in 1888, an international artistic movement of photography developed called Pictorialism, in which photographers sought to emulate painterly effects. The Photo-Secession was the first influential group of American Pictorialists, founded by Stieglitz in New York in 1902 with a name that reflected the modernist secession movements in Europe that sought to align art making with the experience and tenets of industrial modern life. Its founding members included Alvin Langdon Coburn, Gertrude Käsebier, Edward Steichen, and Clarence H. White. The Photo-Secession aimed to have photography understood as a vehicle for personal expression on par with other fine art mediums. Images were more about the evoking emotion and the artist’s intent rather than the subject alone. At the same time, the success of women’s rights and the development of more efficient photographic tools dramatically increased the number of women who found expressive freedom through the medium and joined the Photo-Secession or other Pictorialist groups. Stieglitz promoted his ideas and the work of these artists in Camera Work, an influential journal he founded and edited as a platform for discussing modern photography’s theoretical, technical, and aesthetic aspects. By 1911, however, the members of the Photo-Secession had become divided. Some continued to manipulate negatives and prints in the darkroom to achieve nonphotographic effects, while others, like Stieglitz, came to feel that such manipulation was incompatible with the medium. Torn by this division, the group eventually dissolved.