PRINT Summer 1985


Art and Photography: Forerunners And Influences

Art and Photography: Forerunners And Influences.

By Heinrich Schwarz, edited by William E. Parker, Rochester, N.Y., and Layton, Utah: Visual Studies Workshop and Gibbs M. Smith, Inc., 1985, 158 pp., 64 black and white photographs.

Heinrich Schwarz’s pioneering research into the prehistory of photography has long had almost legendary status among photography historians— in part due to its prescience and in part to its physical inaccessibility. As his thoughts were presented for the most part in papers prepared for symposia or in articles for small scholarly journals, which have long since fallen out of print, this slim collection of essays and excerpts from transcripts of various papers is especially welcome. Schwarz, a Viennese-trained art historian who later moved to the United States, published an important monograph on the early Scottish photographer D.O. Hill in 1931. Until his death in 1974 he continued to investigate the early years of the medium, as well as the events that led up to its invention.

At the core of Schwarz’s thinking about the prehistory of photography is the idea that there had existed in Western culture, at least since the Renaissance, an “inner preparedness” for photography. As evidence for this Schwarz points not only to the innumerable mechanical aids to drawing that were invented before the announcement of photography in 1839 ,from Leonardo’s vetro to the camera obscura and camera lucida, but also to the incorporation of elements of “camera seeing” in many pre-1839 paintings. (This latter idea was explored more fully in the exhibition “Before Photography: Painting and the Invention of Photography,” shown at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1981.) Despite a degree of repetiveness and skimpiness to the arguments, the essays in this book state with clarity and scholarly force ideas that remain crucially important to the history of photography and of art.

Charles Hagen