THE BRITISH JOURNAL OF PHOTOGRAPHY. July 2,1860, p.189
COMPOSITION NOT PATCHWORK.By H.P. ROBINSON.
THAT facility in communicating one's ideas with lucidity is a qualification advantageous to its possessor few persons will be disposed to deny, especially if, like the writer, its absence somewhat involves them in a dilemma similar to that in which I at present find myself placed.,
That the animadversions to which my paper on Printing Photographic Pictures from several Negatives, read before the Photographic Society of Scotland, and published in your number for 2nd April last have given rise are not well founded, I am thoroughly convinced; but, from absence of the happy knack possessed by some more fortunate in this respect than myself of saying the right thing at the right time, I may, perhaps, find some difficulty in rebutting them. No sensible man would feel annoyed at, or think it necessary to reply seriously to, jocular criticisms like those proceeding from your correspondent, Mrs. "Penelope Ann Spriggins," but would be rather inclined to join in a good-humoured laugh against himself. With regard to an article which appeared in your last issue, from the pen of Mr. A.H. Wall, under the title of Composition versus Patchwork, the case, however, assumes a somewhat different aspect, because Mr. Wall's opinion upon such a subject is entitled to consideration; and though his remarks are entirely free from offensive personality to myself, but rather directed against the practice of photographic composition in the special manner that I follow and conceive to be a legitimate occupation, I feel that, as they were elicited by a paper of mine, I am in some measure called upon to make some rejoinder. I shall, however, do so very briefly, leaving my justification in your hands, because it is partly owing to your commendation of my first effort in this direction that I was induced thus to turn my attention to it, and this principally from pure love of the art.
I am sorry Mr. Wall objects to composition. He is a gentleman for whom I have the greatest respect, and, from what I have hitherto seen of his writings, I thoroughly believe in his perfect good faith. 1 do not expect him to admire my works: I am well aware they are full of faults, but they must be put down to my want of skill. I beg to offer the following remarks on Mr. Wall's objections:--
Mr. Wall should know that at least two of the "barbarous wielders of the scissors" have "touched the pencil under the guidance of a cultivated taste," and that they know all about the difficulty of imitating "that imperceptible boundary of vision which we call the outline;" and, having previously encountered this difficulty in many years' experience as painters--for some photographers learned art before they used a camera-they know what is required, and are devoting their attention to its accomplishment. This done, I fancy Mr. Wall's principal objection will be removed.
Rejlander can join the portions of a picture so that I cannot find the outline, therefore I cannot see the application of the paragraph directed specially against the scissors as a tool to work with. I am happy to say. that I can see my faults, or I should never improve.
Some writers hold that there is a "fault in faultlessness." In the Curiosities of Literature, Disraeli quotes Trublet as follows:--"The more there are beauties, and great beauties, in a work, I am the less surprised to find faults, and great faults. When you say of a work that it has many faults, that decides nothing: I do not know by this whether it is execrable or excellent. You tell me of another, that it is without any faults: if your account be just, it is certain the work cannot be excellent."
If I want a few yards of the top of a hill as a base for figures (as in Nearing Home), and if it suits me. to make a fac-simile of a, small portion of that hill in real earth and real vegetation in my, garden, why should I not be allowed to do it? The same with the water in Preparing to Cross: would the "deception," as Mr. Wall calls it, have been discovered, if I had not myself revealed it? And, if discovered, where is the harm? I do not assert that it is a portrait of a particular hill or a particular river.
I maintain that I can get nearer to the truth for certain subjects with several negatives than with one. Witness the foreground and distance in the Top of the Hill--the one five yards from the camera, the other a mile.
How does Mr. Wall propose to take such a picture as Fading Away, including a natural sky, "with a good enlarging process, and a lens commanding a wide angle of view?" Again, let his models be ever so clever, how would he get thirty or forty of them to keep still at the same moment, to say nothing of expression, as in Rejlander's Two Ways of Life?
As to ridicule, we must, of course, bear it; but we can take some comfort from the progress of pre-Raphaelitism, for many years justly laughed at for its crudities and bad drawing, as my attempts are laughed at for their "cruel cutting outlines," &c. Walk, however, through the Academy's Exhibition, and see how four-fifths of the pictures have been influenced by the works of the men who were scoffed at; and mark the progress from their first works to Hunt's picture, now exhibiting m the German Gallery. Now, I quite feel the immeasurable distance between the genius of Hunt and Millais and Rejlander's and my humble talent; but, parvis componere magnis, I do think that in years to come composition photography will have as much influence over the art as the pre-Raphaelites have had over painting. Their faults have smoothed down, but are we not to be allowed room and time for improvement? Are our faults to be eternal? I quite believe the time will come when photographs will be admired more for their invention than their execution.
*The article referred to is not available in electronic form. See, however, Mr. Wall's response in this issue
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