News Release — September 13, 2001
"Henry Peach Robinson: Victorian Photographer"
Henry Peach Robinson (1830-1901) was one of the most successful artistic and commercial photographers in nineteenth-century Britain. Robinson, like many photographers of his day, felt that photography should be respected as an art form. He was one of the few who also felt that it could rival even the "greatest" of the arts—oil painting. Robinson vigorously promoted this belief through his photographs and his writing.
Robinson encouraged photographers to produce images that looked like paintings. To achieve this "pictorial effect," he felt that it was sometimes necessary to mix artificial elements with reality, including costuming his models and posing them. Robinson used combination printing to make his large artistic photographs, and it was for these works that he was the most famous, or perhaps infamous. Many critics felt that it was a dishonest practice that would ruin photography's chances to be respected as an art. Now a century after his death, Robinson's reputation is not as great as it once was, largely because artistic photographers after Robinson followed a different path. But there is a great deal we can learn from his work, and it raises many interesting issues that are relevant to how we look at and understand photography today.
This exhibition examines his entire career. It includes over 100 of Robinson's photographs and graphic works taken from the Gernsheim Collection of photographs at the Ransom Center. The bulk of the exhibition is devoted to Robinson's photographs, including his outdoor figures and landscapes, studio genre works, and combination prints. In his effort to create an artistic type of photography, Robinson based his subjects and compositions upon the themes of popular British genre paintings and illustrations. Throughout the exhibition are many examples of these popular images, reproduced from nineteenth-century periodicals.
There are many early watercolors, drawings and prints in the exhibition that reveal the painterly principles of composition he employed in his later photographic career. The centerpiece of this group is the oil painting View of the Teme near Ludlow, which Robinson had accepted to the annual exhibition of the Royal Academy in 1852. The exhibition places Robinson's career in the larger context of nineteenth-century photography by including over 300 images by his contemporary artistic and commercial photographers, such as Julia Margaret Cameron and Lewis Carroll.