The Wiener Kamera-Club (Vienna Camera Club) had a major influence on Pictorialist Photography and the organisations that the Pictorialists formed. Vienna had, and still has, a long history of science and art that created the cultural setting for the furthering of art in photography. The city clearly embraced art photography, the Vienna International Exhibition 1891 not only included photographic submission, but also limited inclusion solely to artistic photography: technical and scientific photography were refused. This was futher supported by the fine art community who were the ones that actually selected the six hundred or so fine art photographs. It was that same year, 1891, that the Kamera-Club was formed.
The Wiener Kamera-Club did not arise from nothing, it had a predecessor club der Amateur Photographen in Wien.
It should be realised that the term "Amateur” had a different connotation from today: to our ear it implies low quality by unskilled practitioners. However, in the Pictorialist era the term “Professional” was applied to the high street photography practice of formulaic portraiture; hardly the highest form of art. The term “Amateur” then indicated someone of independent means who performed photography out of passion for it and in a way that allowed them to explore it to its highest artistic levels.
This model of photographic club with its inherent city-wide commitment to Pictorialist photography has been described by many as the ‘Viennese Model’. It is this model for a photography organisation that was so influential, arguably leading directly to the Linked Ring in Britain and the Photo-Secession in USA.
The Kamera-Club published two journals Photographische Rundschau and Wiener Photographische Blätter. The latter remains influential today featuring some of the most beautifully executed photogravure. The Blätter is reminiscent of Camera Work, which Alfred Steiglitz produced in USA a several years later: the word ‘blätter’ roughly translates as ‘sheets’ further adding to the same air as ‘work’.
The Blätter also helped open up the Kamera-Club’s influence internationally, which proved to be an important feature of many of the amateur photography clubs of the 1890s. The quality of the photogravure and the subject matter ensured that the Blätter was read and collected widely – and furthered the influence of the Kamera-Club.
It may be unfair to pull out a few photographers from the Wiener Kamera-Club, however of the 277 members in 1891, three Pictorialists do stand out as worthy of special mention: Hugo Henneberg, Heinrich Kühn, and Hans Watzek because of the strength of their sway was so strong. They often exhibited their Pictorialist work together and they formed an association, which they referred to as the ‘Trifolium’: they marked their prints with a cloverleaf monogram near their signature.
Hugo Henneberg was closely associated with the two internationally-important Pictorialists, Robert Demachy from France and Alfred Maskell from Britain. Through that association he brought to Vienna their love of the gum bichromate process, and in particualr to the attention of the other two Trifolia: later together they were to explore colour printing with gum bichromate early in 1896.
Through connections with Henneberg, Alfred Stieglitz joined the Wiener Kamera-Club, and he reciprocated later through exhibiting the works of the Trifolium in the Photo-Secession galleries in New York and publishing their works in his Camera Work. The members of the Trifolium joined other prestigious Pictorialist organisations including the Linked Ring in Britain.
It is unlikely that the Wiener Kamera-Club was an instigator and more an important source of energy in the Pictorialist momentum. It is always difficult to assess the level of influence of an organisation or an individual Pictorialist had. I can say, though, that my own work and thinking is strongly informed by the inventiveness of the Trifolium and Heinrich Kühn in particular - I have on several occasions come up with what though was a novel approach to photography only to discover that Kühn had beaten me to it a hndrerd years earlier (as an exapme my Ho n’ Lo Key photography was explored by him).
The Wiener Kamera-Club existed at a time when the boundaries and assumptions of what is photography was being tested. I feel very fortunate to be working at a time of the internet when the works of these great Pictorialists are often only a click away, while secretly being jealous of having to wait and finally receiving the gloriously produced Blätter .
Impressionist camera : pictorial photography in Europe, 1888-1918, Patrick Daum, F Ribemont, Phillip Prodger. Saint Louis Art Museum, 2006.
Wiener Photographische Blätter: 1894-1898, Austrian photographic art journal