Thursday 20 August 2020

Constant Craving

 As I await the publication of my new book (on the 10th September, see this previous post for information) I have been admiring other photographers, like the tart I am, and I was struck by this photograph...

Veiled Profile (1900) Emile Joachim Constant Puyo

...which reminded me, for obvious reasons, of this photograph....

The Angel at the Sepulchre (1869-70) Julia Margaret Cameron

I immediately wanted to know more about the creator of the first image, and what I found were some of the most incredible images which I will now share with you.

Montmartre (c.1906)

(I have to admit this one has a definite perfume of Clementina Hawarden, but that might be the 'balconied-femininity' of it all, but I digress...)

Emile Joachim Constant Puyo, more commonly just referred to as Constant Puyo, or sometimes appallingly anglicized to 'Charles' Puyo (much as Jacques Tissot became 'James'), was born in 1857 in the north-western town of Morlaix in Brittany.  He came from a rather distinguished, middle-class family; his father Edmond was a painter and amateur archaeologist, not to mention mayor of the town between 1871 and 1878 and founder of the town museum.  His uncle Édouard Puyo was a designer and painter and his other uncle Édouard Corbière (I bet Christmas was fun in that house - 'Pass the sprouts Uncle Édouard, no, the other Uncle Édouard') was a maritime writer, author of Le Négrier (1832).  My favourite of Puyo's relatives has to be Tristan Corbière, doomed poet and possessor of both consumption and a mighty fine mustache...

Tristan Corbière, moments before coughing and then tragically dying

I went through a Baudelaire phase, so he's right up my street.  

Anyway, Constant Puyo was a lot less tragically romantic and a lot more alive than his relatives.  No doubt inspired by his father, young Constant loved to draw and paint, training at the local Polytechnic before joining the army.  He served as an artillery officer in what one writer referred to as the 'revenge army' following the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71. He rose to the rank of Commandant,  and was in charge of a squadron at the School of Artillery at La Fère. All of this left very little time for sketching and Commandant Puyo went in search of a new medium, a quicker medium, in order to capture his images.  He found photography.

Woman Drawing From a Bust (c.1900)

To start with, he photographed friends, family, street scenes, and when he was posted to North Africa, he took photographs of his travels, but all this seemed rather 'documentary' and pedestrian to him, not art. With his posting back to the General Staff in Paris in the late 1880s he began to work on a more pictorial, artistic manner of photography.  

Nude Against the Light (1906)

He helped form the French Salon of Photography in 1894 with his friend and collaborator Robert Demachy, with whom he wrote Notes sur la photographie artistique in 1896.  He not only took photographs, using optical blurring via 'artists' lenses' and the development of gum bichromate and oil transfer, he also wrote at length and passionately on what could be achieved in this new mode of photography.

Summer (c.1900)

He was admitted to The Brotherhood of the Linked Ring in 1896, a British photographic society similarly dedicated to promoting the 'art' of photography.  Strangely enough, I already knew about the Linked Ring because I am a fan of William Smedley-Aston...

Mrs Patrick Campbell reading the Kelmscott Chaucer (1904) William Smedley-Aston

...and I'm a massive fan of his gorgeous wife, artist and model Irene Smedley-Aston...

Irene Smedley-Aston (c.1900) William Smedley-Aston

Good heavens!  Anyway, I digress.  Puyo is most known as a proponent of  Pictorialism, where a seemingly naturalistic scene is manipulated to heightened effect. That way an image is created rather than simply recorded, much like any other work of 'traditional' art.  I particularly like his use of light, in that sort of chiaroscura effect, which is very effective in works such as Mis-en-scene...

Mis-en-scene (c.1900)

He used a combination of natural light and a magnesium flash to create very dramatic 'night' images that capture these alabaster women frozen in a moment of time, theatrically staged and immortalised.

Sacred Song (c.1915)

He retired from the army in 1902 to devote himself to photography.  However, the First World War brought him back into service and he found himself assigned to railway management as he headed towards his sixtieth birthday.  By 1921, despite the fall in popularity of Pictorialism, Puyo found himself the President of the photographic French Salon in Paris until 1926, then he retired back to Morlaix.  He continued to photograph, sending work to a exhibition in Chicago in the summer of 1933, entitled 'A Century of Progress'.  He became ill shortly afterwards and died in the autumn of the same year.  His grave can be found in the graveyard at Saint Martin des Champs, near Morlaix, beside Édouard and Tristan Corbière.  

Sleep (1897)

If you fancy seeing more of Constant Puyo's work, then, quite rightly, the museum in his home town has a wonderful collection. I'll see you on the ferry....

Friday 7 August 2020

Coming Soon - Light and Love...

We're a month away from the launch of my new book Light and Love and so I thought I'd tell you about it.  Also, I have a very special offer from my publisher. Anyway, here's my lovely new book...

Light and Love: The Extraordinary Developments of Julia Margaret ...

As you can see it's called Light and Love: The Extraordinary Developments of Julia Margaret Cameron and Mary Hillier and it is a biography of a relationship.  I wanted to write something about both Mary and Julia for a few years now but when I started to write about them I realised what I wanted to explore was how each woman influenced and affected the other, and how the result of that relationship was the wonderful photographs by Julia of Mary.  So, this is the journey of a friendship and how the relationship between two people can create extraordinary works of art.

Julia Margaret Cameron - Maud [Mary Hillier], 1875 | Flickr
Maud (1875) Julia Margaret Cameron

The book is in three parts, much like the stages of wet collodion photography.  The first part of the book is like the preparation of the glass plate, and all the things that need to happen in order to be ready to create something amazing.  I have written about Julia's journey towards becoming a photographer, her upbringing in India and travels to Africa and Europe.  I find her choice of friends fascinating, how she purposefully befriends educated men who helped her become more than just a colonial wife and hostess. Julia's path goes far beyond what is expected of her and is inspiring. I love how people found her baffling, adorable, infuriating and overwhelming in equal measures.  She is also a woman who does not hide her emotions, especially about those she loves.  In an era when women were meant to keep everything in check, her flurries of love and enthusiasm are astonishing and touching.

JULIA MARGARET CAMERON (1815–1879) | Mary of Bethany (Mary Hillier ...
Mary of Bethany (1865) Julia Margaret Cameron

Part two reflects the taking of the image, the patience and chance at play in capturing a picture on your glass plate.  In this part, Mary and Julia begin their journey in photography.  Through Mary, Julia was able to find her ideal and express her notions of beauty, piety and harmony.  Through Julia, Mary was able to learn the science of photography and become a celebrity who met princes and poets. The relationship between one woman who had travelled the world and the other, over thirty years younger, who had only known one rural village, brings the most incredible images that still move and electrify us today.  This duality appears in memoirs of their contemporaries and I was surprised to read accounts that talk not only of Julia but of her muse and the strange thrill of seeing this 'angel' serving up the dinner at Dimbola Lodge.

JULIA MARGARET CAMERON (1815-1879) | 2nd Version of Study after ...
Study after the Elgin Marbles (1867) Julia Margaret Cameron

Part three follows Mary after the departure of Julia to Ceylon.  How does a former muse deal with life after the departure of the artist they inspired?  I have often wondered about the lives of the models I research.  It's hard to think how much the process of art changes your expectations of life, and how the existence of the immortal 'you' changes how others act around you.  Also, I have written about Mary's family, her children and her expectations for them which I believe were changed by her experiences at Dimbola.  Whether or not she got her wishes, you'll have to read to find out.

Dominic Winter on Twitter: "The Dream, 1869 A fine and signed ...
The Dream (1869) Julia Margaret Cameron

This book is the result of many years of research, archives, meeting people, looking at photographs, taking photographs, breathing in chemicals and reading more books than I can remember.  It's also been an exploration of what relationships mean to us, what they bring in terms of inspiration, both in life and art.  If lockdown has taught me anything, it is that relationships with people that inspire you are vital to existence.  I can't wait for you to read my new book and discover this remarkable relationship for yourselves.  To that end, the smashing people at Unicorn have a special offer for you.  If you preorder Light and Love with them from now until 9 September you can have a signed copy for an extra-special price...

Everyone deserves a bit of light and a whole lot of love right now, so visit Unicorn and use the code 'LIGHT' to get it for a tenner.

Thanks as always go to the wonderful team at Unicorn for making this such a beautiful book and I look forward sharing it with you.