The Linked Ring, or as it was often referred to, the Linked Ring Brotherhood, was founded at a formative time in the history of photography. It arose as a breakaway group from the then the Photographic Society (now the Royal Photographic Society) and quite rightly described as a Secession. The impetus behind this separation came from increasing disquiet among some photographers about their perceived low importance being given to the art of which photography can be a part. The impetus came from a row involving the then Vice President, Henry Peach Robinson, and the hanging of the Society’s annual exhibition in 1891, though the secession was probably driven by deeper ill feelings.
Following the leaving of Robinson, there was a move to form a new association by Alfred Maskell who at his invitation meet as the Linked Ring in May 1892. Present at this meeting in addition to Maskell and Robinson were: Lyonel Clark, George Davison and H. Hay Cameron (Alfred Horsley Hinton would have been there as well if he had not gone to the wrong meeting place). Their purpose was to act as “a means of bringing together those who are interested in the development of the highest form of Art of which Photography is capable. (Robert Leggat).
The Brotherhood chose as their logo three linked rings, which can be seen on the front cover of the Catalogues of their exhibitions (the front cover of catalogue of the 2nd Salon of September 1894 is shown here). These three rings represented, in part, the Masonic concepts of: Good, True, and Beautiful.
Interestingly the very choice of the term ‘Salon’ was a clear statement of alignment with fine artists of the time; the Impressionists were prominent in the 1880s and 1890s.
Entry into the Brotherhood was by invitation only: other members included: William Smedley-Aston, Walter Benington, Arthur Burchett, Frank Sutcliffe, Frederick H. Evans, Paul Martin, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Frederick Hollyer, J. B. B. Wellington, Richard Keene, James Craig Annan, and Lydell Sawyer (aka Lyd Sawyer).
With a name such as Brotherhood it is not surprising that female photographers were not well represented: though Zaida Ben-Yusuf did appear in the annual Salons through the 1890s. Gertrude Käsebier later in 1900 became one of the first elected female members of the Ring.
The membership widened rapidly to beyond the British borders; Robert Demachy a superb French Pictorialist photographer had several photographs in the 3rd Salon of 1895 and onwards.
This tendency to invite others from different countries proved to a mixed blessing. Important Americans including Alfred Stieglitz, Rudolf Eickemeyer, Jr., and Clarence H. White where invited to join, however, their photographs began to dominate the Salon and in 1908 over 60% of the entries were from the USA. The ill feeling this caused led F.J.Mortimer, at the time Editor of the influential magazine "Amateur Photographer", to organise a "Salon des Refusés" of pictures not admitted to the Salon.
The Salon’s rules changed the following year to increase the number of home-grown photographic artists entering the Salon. This, of course, lead to prominent American members, such as Alfred Steiglitz and Clarence H. White, to resign. This was no doubt accelerated by the fact that Steiglitz, following the example of The Linked Ring, had formed his own group, Photo-Secession, in America.
With the alternative Salon and the departure of the Americans, internal strife rose within the Brotherhood, which struggled on for a while before dissolution in 1909. The annual exhibitions, probably the Ring’s most important activity was taken on by the London Salon with its first exhibition in 1910: these annual Salons continue to this day.
I find myself so fascinated by these times and the level of passion about Pictorialism and the need to separate it from scientific photography. This is best summed up from me by a quote from Henry Peach Robinson “No possible amount of scientific truth will in itself make a picture. Something more is required. The truth that is wanted is artistic truth - quite a different thing.” (Photographers Lyons).
Not that the tension between the art and the science of photography has ever fully subsided - and I am not sure it ever should, but I do feel that photography can be and can, now finally, accepted as fine art.
Pictorial Photographs: Record of Photographic Salon 1895. England: Chiswick Press-Charles Wittingham and Co. 1895.
The Linked Ring Harker, Margaret; William Heinemann Ltd. London 1979