An early critique at the Camera Club of NY

(This post is cross-posted on the Camera Club of New York blog)

Last weekend, I looked through the Camera Club of New York's historical archives. They are safely kept in 18 boxes under Bryant park at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, also known as New York Public Library's main building. I will return over the next few months to dig around and choose a few pieces from the archive for this blog.

One of the first pieces I ran across was a clipped article by Theodore Dreiser on the Camera Club from Ainslee's Magazine.

One of this images in the article is this one by Camera Club of NY member and the Club's Vice President, Alfred Stieglitz.

Alfred Stieglitz, The Letter Box, 1894

Alfred Stieglitz, The Letter Box, 1894

The article describes an early account of a photography critique (circa 1899)—not dissimilar to those of today. I love the details and the phrasing:

Very few photos are perfect, and the critical zeal of the camera masters is exacting far beyond the pale of humble human accomplishment.

And yet it occasionally serves to make an humble student of a self-opinionated and self-exaggerated individuality. A case in point is a now distinguished member who came from Brooklyn.

"I was fine in Brooklyn," he remarked one time. "My experience there gave me a good opinion of my work. I began to make lantern slides and exercised my individual taste, with the result that my work was admired. Gradually I began to exhibit it more and more. I joined a local club whose fad was lantern slides and became a star member. Finally I gained such repute that I decided to come to New York and astonish them. I decided that I would quietly enter my plates for exhibition, and, in the vernacular, 'sweep 'em off their feet.'"

"Well?" I inquired as he mused reflectively.

"Oh, I exhibited. They walked on me. One of my pictures made them laugh, and it was intended to be sad. There were twenty-seven objections made to another. My best one came off easy with three criticisms, and all valid. Oh, lord! I thought I would never get out alive."

"Were they fair?"

"Yes; that was the bitter thing. I could realize that it was all kindly said and meant, and was good for me. After it was all over, one gentleman, who noted my crest-fallen state, came up and told me that my work was not bad. It was only the high standard of the club that laid it open to so much criticism. This was too much, and I went home in despair."

"And yet you profited by it."

"It was the best thing that could have happened. I began studying in earnest after that, merely to blot out my terrible defeat. In another year I exhibited again, and the whole set passed the 'test' audience with only a few suggestions."

Below is a photograph from this article and possibly the room that this critique took place.

Here are some pictures from some more recent critiques:

Ansel Adams – Conducting A Critique Session, Courtesy the Ansel Adams Gallery.

Ansel Adams – Conducting A Critique Session, Courtesy the Ansel Adams Gallery.

A recent critique at the Yale School of Art's Photography Department. The panel: John Pilson making a point on the left, Lisa Kereszi, Shirin Neshat and Richard Prince. Image from this post by Photographer Davin Ellicson.

A recent critique at the Yale School of Art's Photography Department. The panel: John Pilson making a point on the left, Lisa KeresziShirin Neshat and Richard Prince. Image from this post by Photographer Davin Ellicson.