photography have rightly considered the end of the nineteenth
century to be this medium’s moment of artistic legitimation,
the point where it passed from the status of a simple technique
to the status of art. They have described the English tradition
and the “Linked Ring”(1) along with the international
pictorialist schools and the Camera Club of New York,(2) as major
stages along this path. And yet it has been difficult so far to
find an answer to the question why it was precisely photography
that became the issue in conflicts over cultural legitimacy. This
difficulty stemmed in part from the fact that even those historical
studies that endeavored to put into perspective the mechanisms
of aesthetic legitimation (such as the brilliant article by Ulrich
Keller on the Camera Club of New York)(3) confined themselves
to an internal analysis that was aimed principally at bringing
out the strategies artists were using to attain a higher status
in the eyes of critics, museum directors, and gallery owners.
Now, the effort
of some actors on the scene to legitimate photography within the
field of art has to be seen in comparison with the larger question
of the legitimacy of various sciences and technologies in organizing
a world view. And it must be set within the broader context of
conflicts over cultural legitimacy between old and new classes
of the bourgeoisie. Here, we can call upon two traditions of historiography
to shed light upon this problem: the history of sciences(4)--and
of these sciences relations with the public space--and the history
of educational systems(5). The example of the Germany of Wilhelm
II will allow us with greater precision to shed light upon this
Photography at the Crossroads of the Arts and Sciences
There is no doubt
that the question of art was of central importance for amateur
photographers who were concerned about their image, eager to join
in community life through participation in associations, and touched
to the quick by the language conservative institutions used to
express their attitude of defiance toward the art of photography.
In their reviews, in their exhibitions, and in their instruction
manuals, these amateur photographers attempted to give cultural
legitimation to a minor art: using association structures, they
endeavored to expose to the public at large the fruits of their
activity, to leverage the “established authorities of cultural
legitimation” (critics, museums, galleries),(6) and sometimes,
as was the case in London and in New York, to affect the status
of an artistic secession.
The example of
the pictorialist salons(7) that were organized in numerous European
cities starting in 1891 testifies to this effort. Eighteen-ninety-one
was the date of the first photographic exhibition, in Vienna,
that was restricted to an artistic elite. These salons, which
were more selective than the large exhibitions of amateur photography,
presented the most beautiful shots of pictorialism and helped
to establish a style borrowed from the pictorialist aesthetic.
In short, they were taking up the various genres of painting--landscape,
genre scenes, portraiture--imitating, with the help of bichromate
gum prints or oil prints--brush strokes, and bringing out the
grain of the paper.(8) In the articles published in photographic
reviews, commentators who often came from these same clubs applied
the criteria of aesthetic judgment and willingly spoke of different
schools (English, French, Viennese, Hamburgian). Thus were the
photographers of these clubs of amateurs attempting to achieve
the status of artists in the eyes of the public and of major artistic
characteristics of the amateur clubs in which this view of photography’s
artistic legitimacy was held take us away, however, from the field
of art and lead us toward a reconsideration of the boom in the
practice of photography as a cultural phenomenon of greater breadth.
On the one hand, only a small number of amateur reviews were devoted
exclusively to the art of photography. Periodicals such as Photographische
Rundschau, Der Amateur-Photograph, Photographische Correspondenz,
Photographische Mitteilungen, Appolo, and Die Sonne
treated a large spectrum of topics in a hodgepodge sort of way:
technical articles, articles of scientific popularization and
aesthetic commentaries, as well as all of photography’s
applications to the arts and sciences were broached in these reviews.
On the other hand, the social diversity of these amateur clubs
also helps to explain the proximity among technical, scientific,
and artistic uses of photography: these associations brought together
many more doctors, military men, engineers, businessmen, and teachers
than artists. Each practiced photography for his own personal
reasons, and not all of them, far from it, claimed the status
of artist. To borrow from the commentary of an amateur of the
time, Wolf-Czapek of Berlin’s Freie photographische
Vereinigung, “the artist, the ethnographer, and the
naturalist were themselves also ‘amateurs.’”(9)
Finally, in northern Germany and more specifically in Berlin,
the vast network of clubs was overseen by individuals hailing
from a scientific elite, most of them being members of the Berlin
Society of Anthropology and close to the famous Dr Rudolf Virchow.
These amateurs organized exhibitions, published the Photographische
Rundschau review, and joined with innumerable other German
clubs in order to foster an exchange of information and to construct
together a shared scientific and artistic visual culture.
While the social and cultural reasons for these groupings into
associations may remain obscure to the historian of art, the history
of the sciences and the history of educational systems may shed
some light here upon the question.
Principles of Cultural Legitimacy
amateurs--whether scientists or artists, landscapists or ethnographers--participated
in bringing about changes in the system of cultural references
that served as a basis for the criteria of social legitimacy.
Photography as practiced by amateurs featured the technical forms
of knowledge--optics and chemistry--that most of them had acquired
in the realschulen, where “modern” subjects--history,
living languages, mathematics, optics, and chemistry--were taught.(10)
Now, when the
Prussian administration decided in 1861 to create, parallel to
the gymnasien, this second educational system, it did
so with the intention of modernizing the system without, for all
that, calling into question the elitism of the high schools, which
were reserved for the aristocracy and the educated middle classes
(Bildungsbürgertum). The high schools remained the
sole guardians of cultural legitimacy, being based on the humanities,
and the realschulen were to have only a utilitarian function
in the structure of the economy and in the German system of administration.
Neither chemistry nor mathematics nor even history ought to upset
the dominant system of cultural references. After a “decade
of reaction” separating these reforms from the liberal revolutions
of 1848, the established power was in no way concealing its will
to break in this way the revolutionary upsurges of the liberal
and scientists experienced this system as an intolerable form
of hypocrisy.(12) On the one hand, the claim was that society
was being modernized; on the other, the new bourgeois classes’
access to the central operations of power and to cultural legitimacy
were clearly being limited. This “symbolic violence”(13)
had, however, an unexpected effect. Disciplines like history,
to be sure, but also medicine and the natural sciences (physics,
astronomy, geology, biology, zoology, natural history) were placed
at the center of a project whose aim was to regain social and
cultural legitimacy by constructing a genuine “world view.”(14)
The liberal scientific elite thus took advantage of the disappointment
of a class of teachers and of a generation that had gone through
the realschulen and the technical universities (Technische
Hochschulen) between 1861 and 1882 (the year of the merger
between the “realschulen erster Ordnung (R.I.O.)”
and the high schools) in order to attempt an overthrow of the
dominant system of cultural values. The annual congresses of the
“Society of Naturalists and Doctors,” for example,
was the setting for passionate exchanges about the orientations
of school curricula or scientific research as well as about the
major naturalist theories and the systems of interpretation of
natural history.(15) Thus, despite the cultural illegitimacy in
which the old elite tried to maintain the teaching of the new
technical and historical subjects, science took an active part
in the construction of a world view.
With the spread
and advance of photography beginning in the 1880s, images took
on capital importance in this symbolic change. In numerous fields
of the natural sciences, images represented a powerful factor
for innovation. In astronomy, in cellular biology, in pathology,
and especially in physical anthropology, photography became one
of the main modes of scientific observation.(16) Now, all these
changes were being followed by amateurs, were the topic of articles
and brochures as well as handbooks, and constituted a significant
part of the major photographic exhibitions. Likewise, most of
the amateur photography clubs had an active part to play in the
process of scientific popularization. Berlin’s Freie
photographische Vereinigung brought together doctors, biologists,
and anthropologists situated at the heart of the scientific system;
this club maintained excellent relations with the major academic
institutes, such as the Institute of Hygiene founded by Émile
Du Bois Reymond, as well as such museums as the Ethnology Museum.
It was, as a matter of fact, these men of science who took an
interest in spreading the practice of photography by publishing
the Photographische Rundschau review, by organizing exhibitions,
and by federating with others to exchange opinions about the evolution
Thus do the stakes in the legitimation of photography become clearer.
While, for some artists, what was at issue was to give a minor
art the status of a major art, for most active amateurs in these
clubs what was at issue was also and especially active participation
in the cultural changes that were bringing science and technology
to the fore. And yet the scientific elite’s support for
the activity of amateur photographers is not to be explained solely
by this conflict over social legitimation. While it left its marks
on an entire generation and continued to be the motive force guiding
its will, it was nonetheless too old to justify by itself alone
the symbolic charge these amateur clubs took on. How is it that
so many official institutions would participate in and encourage
the major exhibitions of amateur photography, whereas the sciences
had already won certain symbolic victories over the humanities,
and whereas, contrary to the legitimacy of the new middle classes,
the legitimacy of this scientific elite was no longer in danger?
The Political Stakes of Amateur Photography
of amateur photographs organized in Berlin in 1896 offers some
interesting hints as to the reasons why elites were involved in
these clubs. It was the second major exhibition of this kind on
German soil. Organized under the aegis of the two amateur photography
clubs of Berlin, it brought together a large quantity of photographs
from every country and presented photography as much from its
scientific side as its artistic one. Still more astonishing, however,
are the political symbols that accompanied this event. The idea
for the above-mentioned exhibition came from “Empress Frederick
III,” the mother of Wilhelm II, whom her son had coldly
pushed from power as soon as he acceded to the throne on account
of her “cosmopolitan and liberal” outlook.(17) In
order to continue her liberal activities at the margins of the
real exercise of power, the empress widow took refuge in charity
work and offered her support to institutions of popular education.
It is in the same spirit of popular education and scientific popularization
that she proposed to amateur photographers that she sponsor this
Added to this
very symbolic sponsorship by the mother of the emperor was a second
symbol: the exhibition took place in the new Reichstag building
that had been inaugurated just four years earlier. Now, in Berlin,
this building crystallized the opposition between Liberals and
the Emperor, an opposition that reached its apogee in the ban,
ignored by the architect, not to make the Reichstag’s copula
exceed the height of the Schlosskapelle. The building
was a project instigated by the Liberals and inspired by Liberal
deputies who wanted to offer the people a symbol of its sovereignty
over the emperor.(18) However, these same Liberals had suffered
such an unprecedented political defeat in 1891 that many among
them, and Rudolf Virchow in particular, did not enjoy the honor
of sitting in the new building.
and scientific context in Berlin therefore adds a second important
stake to the first one, which was furnished to us by a look at
the history of the educational system and the history of the sciences.
It would seem, indeed, that the liberal elite used “cultural
strategies” to retain an influence it had lost on the political
terrain.(19) Thanks to an exhibition of this sort, it was able
to affirm both liberal values and a liberal culture.(20) Such
values were characterized by exchange, debate, the principle of
deliberation, and the elective sociability of amateur associations.
And such a culture was influenced by both the sciences and the
arts, as well as by an enlightened reading of images and a taste
forged in common as a bearer of cultural consensus.
Harker, The Linked Ring : The Secession Movement in Photography
in Britain, 1892-1910 (London: Heinemann, 1979).
2. Françoise Heilbrun and Danielle Tilkin,
New York et l'art moderne. Alfred Stieglitz et son cercle
(Paris: Musée d'Orsay, 2005).
3. Ulrich Keller, “The Myth of Art Photography:
A Sociological Analysis,” History of Photography,
8 (1984): 249-75.
4. David Cahan, “Helmholtz and the Civilizing
Power of Science,” in David Cahan, ed., Hermann von
Helmholtz and the Foundations of Nineteenth-Century Science
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), pp. 559-601;
Andreas W. Daum, Wissenschaftspopularisierung im 19 Jahrhundert.
Bürgerliche Kultur, naturwissenschaftliche Bildung und die
deutsche Öffentlichkeit. 1848-1914 (Munich: Oldenburg
Verlag, 1998); Constantin Goschler, ed., Wissenschaft und
Öffentlichkeit in Berlin, 1870-1930 (Stuttgart: F. Steinert,
2000); Anne Rasmussen, L'internationale scientifique
(thesis; Paris: École des Hautes Études en Sciences
5. Christa Berg, ed., Handbuch der deutschen
Bildungsgeschichte, vol. 4, 1870-1914. Von der Reichsgründung
bis zum Ende des ersten Weltkrieges (Munich: C. H. Beck 1991).
6. Pierre Bourdieu, “Le marché des
biens symboliques,” L'Année sociologique, 22
7. Le Salon de photographie.
Les écoles pictorialistes en Europe et aux Etats-Unis vers
1900, exhibition catalogue of the Musée Rodin for
June 22 - September 26, 1993 (Paris: Musée Rodin, 1993).
8. Claudia Gabriele Philipp, ed., Kunstphotographie
um 1900. Die Sammlung Ernst Juhl, exhibition catalogue for
June 23 - August 27, 1989 (Hamburg: Museum für Kunst und
Gewerbe, 1989); Michel Poivert, Le pictorialisme en France
1892-1914 (thesis; Paris: University of Paris 1, 1992); Wolfgang
Ullrich, “Unschärfe, Antimodernismus und Avantgarde,”
in Peter Geimer, ed., Ordnungen der Sichtbarkeit. Fotografie
in Wissenschaft, Kunst und Technologie (Frankfurt-am-Main:
Suhrkamp, 2002), pp. 381-412.
9. K. W. Wolf-Czapek, “Die Ziele und Leistungen
der Freien photographischen Vereinigung,” in Franz Goerke,
ed., Denkschrift anlässlich des zwanzigjährige der
Freien Photographischen Vereinung zu Berlin (Halle: Knapp,
10. Gert Schubring, “Mathematisch-naturwissenschaftliche
Fächer,” in Christa Berg, ed., Handbuch der deutschen
Bildungsgeschichte, vol. 3, Ernst-Karl Jeismann and Peter
Lundgreen, eds, Von der Neuordnung Deutschlands bis zur Gründung
des Deutschen Reiches (Munich: C. H. Beck, 1987), pp. 204-21.
11. Manfred Eckert, Die schulpolitische Instrumentalisierung
des Bildungsbegriffs. Zum Abgrenzungsstreit zwischen Realschule
und Gymnasium im 19. Jahrhundert (Frankfurt-am-Main: R. G.
12. Gert Schubring, Die Entstehung des Mathematiklehrerberufes
im 19. Jahrhundert (Weinheim: Beltz, 1983).
13. Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passeron,
Reproduction in Education, Society, and Culture (1973),
trans. Richard Nice (London: Sage, 1990).
14. Andreas W. Daum, Wissenschaftspopularisierung
im 19. Jahrhundert.
16. Peter Geimer, ed., Ordnungen der Sichtbarkeit.
17. Kaiser Friedrich III (1831-1888),
Geheimes Archiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz exhibition catalog (Berlin:
Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, 1988); John C. G.
Röhl, Der Aufbau der Persönlichen Monarchie. 1888-1900
(Munich: C. H. Beck, 2001).
18. Horst Bredekamp, “Kuppel wider Willen.
Das Reichstagsgebäude Sir Norman Forsters,” in Andres
Lepik, Anne Schmeding, and Christian Gahl, eds, Architektur
in Berlin: das XX. Jahrhundert. Ein Jahrhundert Kunst in Deutschland,
(Cologne: Dumont, 1999), pp. 122-123; Michael S. Cullen, Der
Reichstag. Parlament Denkmal Symbol (Berlin: be.bra Verlag.
19. Goeff Eley, “Notable Politics, The
Crisis of German Liberalism, and the Electoral Transition of the
1890's,” in Konrad Jarausch and Larry Eugene Jones, eds,
In Search of a Liberal Germany: Studies in the History of
German Liberalism from 1789 to the Present (New York/Oxford/Munich:
20. Joern Leonard, “Semantische Deplazierung
und Entwertung. Deutsche Deutungen von liberal und
Liberalismus nach 1850 im europäischen Vergleich,”
Geschichte und Gesellschaft, 1 (2003): 5-39.
BERG, Christa (ed.). Handbuch der
deutschen Bildungsgeschichte. Vol. 4. 1870-1914. Von
der Reichsgründung bis zum Ende des ersten Weltkrieges. Munich:
C. H. Beck 1991.
BOURDIEU, Pierre. “Le
marché des biens symboliques,” L'Année
sociologique. 22 (1971): 51-126.
BOURDIEU, Pierre, and PASSERON, Jean-Claude.
Reproduction in Education, Society, and Culture (1973).
Trans. Richard Nice. London: Sage, 1990.
BREDEKAMP, Horst. “Kuppel wider Willen.
Das Reichstagsgebäude Sir Norman Forsters.” In Andres
Lepik, Anne Schmeding, and Christian Gahl (eds), Architektur
in Berlin: das XX. Jahrhundert. Ein Jahrhundert Kunst in Deutschland.
Cologne: Dumont, 1999, pp. 122-123.
CAHAN, David. “Helmholtz and the Civilizing
Power of Science.” In David Cahan (ed.), Hermann von
Helmholtz and the Foundations of Nineteenth-Century Science.
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993, pp. 559-601.
CULLEN, Michael S. Der Reichstag. Parlament
Denkmal Symbol. Berlin: be.bra Verlag. 1995.
DAUM, Andreas W. Wissenschaftspopularisierung
im 19. Jahrhundert. Bürgerliche Kultur, naturwissenschaftliche
Bildung und die deutsche Öffentlichkeit. 1848-1914.
Munich: Oldenburg Verlag, 1998.
ECKERT, Manfred. Die schulpolitische Instrumentalisierung
des Bildungsbegriffs. Zum Abgrenzungsstreit zwischen Realschule
und Gymnasium im 19. Jahrhundert. Frankfurt-am-Main: R. G.
ELEY, Goeff. “Notable Politics, The Crisis
of German Liberalism, and the Electoral Transition of the 1890's.”
In Konrad Jarausch and Larry Eugene Jones (eds), In Search
of a Liberal Germany: Studies in the History of German Liberalism
from 1789 to the Present. New York/Oxford/Munich: Berg, 1990.
GEIMER, Peter (ed.). Ordnungen der Sichtbarkeit.
Fotografie in Wissenschaft, Kunst und Technologie. Frankfurt-am-Main,
GOSCHLER, Constantin (ed.). Wissenschaft
und Öffentlichkeit in Berlin, 1870-1930. Stuttgart:
F. Steinert, 2000.
HARKER, Margaret. The Linked Ring: The Secession
Movement in Photography in Britain, 1892-1910. London: Heinemann,
HEILBRUN, Françoise and TILKIN,
Danielle. New York et l'art moderne. Alfred Stieglitz
et son cercle. Paris: Musée d'Orsay, 2005.
Kaiser Friedrich III (1831-1888). Geheimes Archiv Preussischer
Kulturbesitz exhibition catalog. Berlin: Staatliche Museen Preussischer
KELLER, Ulrich. “The Myth of Art Photography:
A Sociological Analysis.” History of Photography,
8 (1984): 249-75.
LEONARD, Joern. “Semantische Deplazierung
und Entwertung. Deutsche Deutungen von liberal und Liberalismus
nach 1850 im europäischen Vergleich.” Geschichte
und Gesellschaft, 1 (2003): 5-39.
PHILIPP, Claudia Gabriele (dir.) (1989). Kunstphotographie
um 1900. Die Sammlung Ernst Juhl. Exhibition catalogue for
June 23 - August 27, 1989. Hamburg: Museum für Kunst und
POIVERT, Michel. Le pictorialisme en France
1892-1914. Thesis. Paris: University of Paris 1, 1992.
RASMUSSEN, Anne. L'internationale scientifique.
Thesis. Paris: École des Hautes Études en Sciences
ROHL, John C. G. Der Aufbau der Persönlichen
Monarchie. 1888-1900. Munich: Beck, 2001.
Le Salon de photographie. Les écoles pictorialistes
en Europe et aux Etats-Unis vers 1900. Exhibition catalogue
of the Musée Rodin for June 22 - September 26, 1993. Paris:
Musée Rodin, 1993.
SCHUBRING, Gert. Die Entstehung des Mathematiklehrerberufes
im 19. Jahrhundert. Weinheim: Beltz, 1983.
SCHUBRING, Gert. “Mathematisch-naturwissenschaftliche
Fächer.” In Christa Berg (ed.), Handbuch der deutschen
Bildungsgeschichte. Vol. 3. Ernst-Karl Jeismann and Peter
Lundgreen (eds), Von der Neuordnung Deutschlands bis zur Gründung
des Deutschen Reiches. Munich: C. H. Beck, 1987, pp. 204-21.
ULLRICH, Wolfgang. "Unschärfe, Antimodernismus
und Avantgarde.” In Peter Geimer (ed.), Ordnungen der
Sichtbarkeit. Fotografie in Wissenschaft, Kunst und Technologie.
Frankfurt-am-Main, Suhrkamp, 2002, pp. 381-412.
WOLF-CZAPEK, K. W. “Die Ziele und Leistungen
der Freien photographischen Vereinigung.” In Franz Goerke
(ed.), Denkschrift anlässlich des zwanzigjährige.
Halle: Knapp, 1910.
1 Poster for the Hamburg International
Exhibition of Amateur
2 Initials of the Association of
Amateur Photographers, 1893.
3 Adolf Meyer, German Study, 1893.
4 A. W. Ferdinandus Michaelsen, The Lotefos,
5 Count Tyszkiewicz, Nude Study, 1896.
6 The Reichstag in Berlin--placed as an insert for the Catalog
and official guide of the Berlin Reichstag Exhibition of Amateur
Photographers (Berlin: Rudolf Moss, 1896).