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HENRY PEACH ROBINSON
[1830 – 1901] English photographer, pioneer of pictorialist photography
Photography would have been settled a fine art long ago if we had not, in more ways than one, gone so much into detail. We have always been too proud of the detail of our work and the ordinary detail of our processes. - Henry Peach Robinson

Impressionism has induced the study of what we see and shown us that we all see differently; it has done good to photography by showing that we should represent what we see and not what the lens sees . . . What do we see when we go to Nature? We see exactly what we are trained to see, and, if we are lucky, perhaps a little more but not much . . . We see what we are prepared to see and on that I base a theory that we should be very careful what we learn. - Henry Peach Robinson

It is a great indiscretion for a photographer to show his model, his scenery, or his methods . . . he may make a heap of earth and a few stones in a back garden look like the top of a mountain, he may throw glamour of light and shade equal to Rembrandt's over his group, but he gives himself away body and soul if he takes credit for them. Better be content with the applause he is sure to get for the completed work, rather than expose all the mean little dodges that go towards building up a complete whole , that shows not only nature, but that nature has been filtered through the brain and fingers of an artist. - Henry Peach Robinson

It is an old canon of art, that every scene worth painting must have something of the sublime, the beautiful, or the picturesque. By its nature, photography can make no pretensions to represent the first, but beauty can be represented by its means and picturesqueness has never had so perfect an interpreter. - Henry Peach Robinson

It is only by loving nature, and going to her for everything, that good work can be done; but then we must look to her for the materials for pictures, not for pictures themselves. It is nature filtered through the mind and fingers of the artist that produces art, and the quality of the pictures depends on the fineness of that filter. - Henry Peach Robinson
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A picture should draw you on to admire it, not show you everything at a glance. After a satisfactory general effect, beauty after beauty should unfold itself, and they should not all shout at once . . . This quality [mystery] has never been so much appreciated in photography as it deserved. The object seems to have been always to tell all you know.. This is a great mistake. Tell everything to your lawyer, your doctor, and your photographer (especially your defects when you have your portrait taken, that the sympathetic photographer may have a chance of dealing with them), but never to your critic. He much prefers to judge whether that is a boathouse in the shadow of the trees, or only a shepherd's hut. We all like to have a bit left for our imagination to play with. Photography would have been settled a fine art long ago if we had not, in more ways than one, gone so much into detail. We have always been too proud of the detail of our work and the ordinary detail of our processes. - Henry Peach Robinson

We got tired of the sameness of the exquisiteness of the photograph . . . [referring to the exact rendition of detail which is all-revealing.] Why? Because the photograph told us everything about the facts of nature and left out the mystery. Now, however hard-headed a man may be, he cannot stand too many facts; it is easy to get a surfeit of realities, and he wants a little mystification as a relief... - Henry Peach Robinson

Beauty, picturesqueness, and all loveliness are the food of art. - Henry Peach Robinson

However much a man might love beautiful scenery, his love for it would be greatly enhanced if he looked at it with the eye of an artist, and knew why it was beautiful. A new world is open to him who has learnt to distinguish and feel the effect of the beautiful and subtle harmonies that nature presents in all her varied aspects. Men usually see little of what is before their eyes unless they are trained to use them in a special manner. - Henry Peach Robinson

I must warn you against too close study of art to the exclusion of nature and the suppression of original thought . . . Art rules should be a guide only to the study of nature, and not a set of fetters to confine the ideas or to depress the faculty of or iginal interpretation in the artist, whether he be painter or photographer; and a knowledge of the technicalities of art [or photography] will be found the best guide . . . The object [of rules] is to train his mind so that he may select with ease, and, w hen he does select, know why one aspect of a subject is better than another. - Henry Peach Robinson

It is a too common occurrence with photographers to overlook the inadaptability of a scene to artistic treatment, merely because they think it lends itself to the facility, which their art possesses, of rendering, with wondrous truth, minutiae and unimportant details. To many this rendering of detail, and the obtaining of sharp pictures, is all that is considered necessary to constitute perfection; and the reason for this is, that they have no knowledge of, and therefore can take no interest in, the representation of nature as she presents herself to the eye of a well-trained painter, or of one who has studied her with reverence and love. - Henry Peach Robinson

A sitter will sometimes want to be taken 'naturally'. His idea of being natural 'just as I am, you know' is to sprawl over the furniture. Perhaps he will put his hands in his pockets, sink low in the chair, and expect you to make a good head and shoulders portrait of him. This is an awkward customer to manage. Possibly the best plan is to recommend him to go to the worst photographer he can find . . . or to the peripatetic on the sands or common, who will let him have his own way entirely, so that he pays his sixpence in advance. - Henry Peach Robinson

A work of art is a work of order, and if the artist is to put the stamp of his own mind on his work, he must arrange, modify, and dispose of his materials so that they may appear in a more agreeable and beautiful manner than they would have assumed without his interference. - Henry Peach Robinson - in "Picture Making by Photography", reprint of the 5th edition of 1897, Arno Press, New York 1973, p. 44 [cited in: "Pictorial Photography in Britain 1900 – 1920", exhibition catalogue, Arts Council of Great Britain in association with The Royal Photographic Society, London 1978, p. 25]

..look over your camera to see that everything is in order, for however sure you may be that everything is right, it is always best to have an inspection before marching. To forget a screw, if you have a loose one, and only discover your loss when you are miles from home and the view before you is "perfect", is to promote, possibly suicide, certainly profanity. - Henry Peach Robinson

Nothing in nature has a hard outline, but everything is seen against something else, and its outlines fade gently into something else, often so subtly that you cannot quite distinguish where one ends and the other begins. In this mingled decision and indecision, this lost and found, lies all the charm and mystery of nature. - Henry Peach Robinson - From his book: "Naturalistic Photography for Students of Art." (1889)

Photograph people as they really are - do not dress them up. - Henry Peach Robinson - From his book: "Naturalistic Photography for Students of Art." (1889)

The photographic technique is perfect and needs no...bungling. - Henry Peach Robinson - From his book: "Naturalistic Photography for Students of Art." (1889)

The photographic technique is perfect and needs no...bungling. - Henry Peach Robinson - From his book: "Naturalistic Photography for Students of Art." (1889)

He rejected the retouching of pictures, which he called "the process by which a good, bad, or indifferent photograph is converted into a bad drawing or painting". - Henry Peach Robinson - From his book: "Naturalistic Photography for Students of Art." (1889)

Healthy human eyes never saw any part of a scene out of focus. - Henry Peach Robinson - From his book: "Naturalistic Photography for Students of Art." (1889)

As the science of photography has its formulae so has the art of picture-making, in whatever material, its rules. - Henry Peach Robinson - "Pictorial Effect in Photography" [1869] Cited in "The History of Photography" by Beaumont Newhall, The Museum of Modern Art, New York 1964, p. 61.

Photography would be better if its elements were not so easily comprehended as to make it almost a frivolous pursuit, and to cause it to be included with amusements and recreations. - Henry Peach Robinson

..any “dodge,” or trick, or conjuration of any kind is open to the photographer’s use so that it belongs to his art and is not false to nature. If the dodges, tricks, etc., lead the photographer astray, so much the worse for him; if they do not assist him to represent nature, he is not fit to use them. It is not the fault of the dodges, it is the fault of the bungler. - Henry Peach Robinson

The aim and end of the artist is not truth exactly, much less fact; it is effect... There is no doubt he [the photographer] best gets his effect by way of truth, but he uses it as he would a servant, not a master. - Henry Peach Robinson

It must be confessed that it takes considerable skill to produce the best kind of lies. It is in the hands of first-class photographers only—and perhaps the indifferent ones—that photography can lie. - Henry Peach Robinson

It may be said that there is scarcely anything our art cannot accomplish, even to seeing things invisible to ordinary senses and photographing the living bones of which are frames are made. - Henry Peach Robinson

The means of producing pictures in our art [photography] are as good as those of producing paintings in Raphael’s time; and nothing but a deep and earnest study is required to make our pictures rank with the works of the most famous men. - Henry Peach Robinson

It was soon evident in my lodgings that I had become a dangerous lunatic, and there would be nothing left to destroy if strong measures were not taken. So I was turned out of the house, but it was only into the garden, where I was allowed to build a small darkroom of oilcloth. - Henry Peach Robinson

Photography is becoming so very useful that it is a question whether it will not in time be forgotten that it was originally intended as a means of representing the beautiful, and became known only as being the humble helper in everybody’s business except its own, from that of the astronomer, who uses it to discover unexpected worlds, down to that of the “brewer and baker and candlestick maker." - Henry Peach Robinson

In the early days we were surprised and delighted with a photograph, as a photograph, just because we had not hitherto conceived possible any definition or finish that approached nature so closely... But soon we wanted something more. We got tired of the sameness of the exquisiteness of the photograph, and if it had nothing to say, if it was not a view, or a portrait of something or somebody, we cared less and less for it. Why? Because the photograph told us everything about the facts of nature and left out the mystery. Now, however hard-headed a man may be, he cannot stand too many facts; it is easy to get a surfeit of realities, and he wants a little mystification as a relief. - Henry Peach Robinson

The photographer must not let his invention tempt him to represent, by any trick, any scene that does not occur in nature; if he does, he does violence to his art, because it is known that his finished result represents some object or thing that has existed for a space of time before his camera. - Henry Peach Robinson

It is [the photographer’s] imperative duty to avoid the mean, the base and the ugly, and to aim to elevate his subject... and to correct the unpicturesque... A great deal can be done and very beautiful pictures made, by a mixture of the real and the artificial in a picture. - Henry Peach Robinson

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